The World Spins Madly On, but Find Joy

It has been nearly nine months since I pressed mute on the clamoring crowd and invited in the poets and home-makers and song-singers and the unknown pastors. I made it my aim to listen to the folks who were just going about their days, practicing quiet faithfulness in a world gone rogue. Here's what I've found there: joy. 

I unfollowed the instagram feeds showing me their perfect salads day after day because when you're in the middle of moving for the third time in two years who has time to make a salad with every color of the rainbow? I unfollowed all the obvious Republicans and Democrats on Facebook—if I could tell their political leaning by their status, I unfollowed. I muted all the pithy pastors and wanna-be-published-ers racking up their followers on Twitter. I mostly stopped mindless scrolling and but mainly stopped mindless clicking. I stopped reading anything on the Big Christian Article/Blog Sites unless I knew the author personally. I wanted to be as woke as the next person, but I could not sacrifice my soul on the altar of information, and my soul was wilting. 

Instead I started reading fiction again (I'm super into mysteries right now, like this and this.). I started making salads when I could, but also was just a-okay with eating a PB&J for the seventh day in a row because everything was packed. I started reading non-fiction that didn't beat me over the head with All The Things Wrong With This World and instead stuff that was interesting to me as a person and a human (Like this, and this, and this. Oh, and this.). I opened my bible before I opened Twitter most mornings. I found myself genuinely sad when tragedy hit, but not really sad or surprised when the next political brouhaha happened. I gained a gross distaste in my mouth for quick Christian articles that are a dime a dozen. I read blogs about making homes and preserving tomatoes and folk music and the process of illustrating children's fiction and rural pastoring—the slow, faithful work of being. All these people, doing what they were made to do, and finding such joy in it. 

I expected to find monotony and boredom, wondered what people were writing about when they weren't trying to get hits or likes or link-backs or their fifteen seconds of fame. I expected to find simplicity, deep thoughts, and intentionality, but I didn't expect to find joy. 

It's pretty brilliant what you find when you're not waiting for applause or note or double taps. You begin to find joy in the way the sun coming through the curtain hits the wall not just one day, but every day thereafter. You're amazed by it day after day. You pay attention to the ombre of an overwatered leaf and to the cadence of a sentence and not just the content—and in these, you begin to find joy. 

My friend Steve said this yesterday, "The day you stop trying to do the thing God gave to others and instead do the thing God gave to you is the day your contentment blossoms." It's an awful lot like what dear old Beuchner said, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." Or what the master said to the faithful servant in Matthew 25: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master."

Don't you want to enter into the joy of your master? I do. I really do. But I can't do it if I'm following naysayers around at a rate that would make our ancestors go mad. There are probably a lot more of me, maybe even you, out there right now, and I just wanted to check in and say, nine months in, it was good decision for me. If you're considering it. If you've grow battle-worn and are walking around limping with your arms and legs so battered they're numb, check out and check off. Shut it down. Close it. Unfollow (Even Sayable. Seriously. If this place is just noise for you, click that unsubscribe button. I admire you for it.). 

Some books that are helping and have helped me in this little journey (And seriously, the best way to start this journey of unplugging from the mass of media, is to engage in media that fills that gap and points you in the right direction):

The Tech-wise Family (short, solid, very practical)

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (mid-length, readable, and practical)

The Big Disconnect (long, full, very informative)

Abundant Simplicity (mid-length, solid, and convictional)

Our Divided States

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 8.13.59 AM Endeavoring to be slow to speak means some might say I am too late to speak, but as I emerge from the mosh pits of celebration and solidarity that the District of Columbia has been the past week, all I can think is: Lord, make me slow to speak, even, sometimes, slow to hear. Close my ears to the rhetoric that makes good argument but fails to consider the Creator God. Close my mouth to sides and stances and cheers and chants.

The art of scrolling is one at which I am adept and my fingers were properly exercised this week, one image after another, one short video after another, one article after another, friends, peers, young ones, jubilant in their political position. Even now, days later, when my friends are breathless with pride or heartbroken with fear, I try to hear them, longer, longer, wait for it. But my heart is broken.

It was Sanctity of Life Sunday, carefully scheduled for the Sunday after the inauguration and before the March for Life—a time of maximum emotion, high polarity, and certain bandwagoning—and from the pulpit he spoke of gun control, the death penalty, conception to natural death, poverty, and disability. It was a pro-all-life sermon and these are rare finds these days. I wanted to weep.

One of my first memories is being hoisted onto my father's shoulders, a blue and white sign in my child hands, marching back and forth in the cold outside the local hospital. I remember the way my hot breath made my father's hair wet and then bitterly cold, ice almost, and so I kept doing it: a childish game for a child protesting the death of other children. I knew not what I did.

I wonder, sometimes, if we know not what we do, most of us. All of us. Republicans so intricately concerned with the intricacies of conception, hearts aflutter and personhood, and Democrats so consumed with poverty and quality of life and people. Even the act of writing those words I have grouped all of us into one or the other—even if it isn't the whole truth—because that's what we do. We polarize. We assume. We gotcha.

I mourned the rise of Donald Trump as our president and I mourned the march of women the following day. We know not what we do. I mourn the talking heads and wonder, "Who are these people, really? What saddens them and delights them and what do they fear and why are they yelling?" I mourn the signs and hats and chants and shirts, which I had hoped (really hoped) would say more about equal pay and poverty and violence against all women and immigration, but mostly were about anatomy, birth control, abortion, and death. I wonder what, exactly, any of us are for?

There is no easy way through all of this, but I hope and know there are more of me out there. This election split us, severed us really, and I am grateful for this at least. I have not found a home in Republican politics or Democrat principles since I began searching for one years ago. One seemed to only care about the life of the baby and one only about the life of the mother, and neither, really, about the life of the father at all. If we are humans and not automatons, I hope none of us can find a home in there either.

I think of Peter's letter to the "elect exiles of the dispersion," and I hope I might find myself in there this week, this polarizing, dehumanizing, relegating, shaming week. His, but exiled. His, but not at home. His, but apart from the whole. His, but dispersed. But still his.

I say to Nate of all the years to live in D.C. and have the opportunity to attend so many beautiful expressions of our government, politics, and rights, I am saddened that this is our year. I feel less like a proud American than I ever have. But there, nestled amidst the sadness in my broken heart, there is a quiet and vibrant confidence: I cannot find a home in all of this, any of it, but I have a home in Him and what life in Him stands for: all of life in Him for all of life on earth.

. . .

If you feel like an elect exile this year too, if you feel lonely there, I want to comfort you with words assuring you that you are not alone, but I don't think it will help you. The truth is we are alone in this in some ways. He is with us, and we are with one another, but when you feel that nagging shame of not being able to joy in the new president of our country or march with women wearing "pussy-hats," when you feel in the messy middle of being not either, here is the truth: you are not alone and that uncomfortable place in which you stand is a good one. It will remind you your home is in Heaven with a King who will never be elected out of his office or throne and who cares, more deeply, more intricately, about all the mothers and fathers and babies than we ever could. So keep caring. Keep standing in the messy middle being pro-all-life remembering: Jesus once bled an agonizing, messy death so that all might live.

We Cannot Complain About America if We Do Not Listen to Others

I went on an epic rant to one of my best friends this morning (she was raised and leans more liberal, I was raised and lean more conservative, but no subject is off limits in our friendship and it's one of the reasons I love her so dearly). It was over text message and we were both getting ready to leave for trips so not the most opportune way to rant, but when you live on opposite coasts, you do what you can to keep the spark alive. My frustration had to do with a liberal elite smugness and a GOP's smug we-told-you-so base I'm seeing in response to the election. Calls for "safe spaces and honest dialogue" and incredulity at the election outcome by liberals, and an absolute outright gloating and total blind-eye to the President-elect's foibles, failures, and future blunders by conservatives. I was grateful, in one sense, that most of the Christians I know and respect did not vote for Trump, but that alone illustrates the issue: I surround myself with people with whom I agree. It's called a confirmation bias and we all have them. The trick is to know you do and to not demonize the ones who don't know, but to instead educate them and yourself along the way.

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 9.32.41 AM

If you lean liberal and are simply scratching your head at the results here, read Hillbilly Elegy. It will do more to help you understand the situation at hand in one sitting, than this entire election season tried to do in one and half years.

If you were raised in a poor, predominantly white town, it would be helpful for you to understand what is actually going on in cities where perfectly normal and legal citizens of this country with varying races are simply trying to live, read: American Passage

If you were raised in a predominantly white evangelical setting and have trouble understanding the unrest by African-Americans, read: Letters to a Birmingham Jail

If you were raised in the north or the south, and are sure you aren't racist, read: The Warmth of Other Suns 

If you went to college pre-1990 and can't figure out why Millennials care so much about the cost of higher education, read: Paying the Price.

If you were raised in a home where your parent's income was considered Upper Middle Class or above, read: White Trash

If you were raised in a home where welfare, food stamps, and the food pantry was where you or your friends got food from, read: Bobos in Paradise

If you were raised in a home that leaned liberal or leaned conservative, but what you see happening today doesn't reflect what you were raised to believe, read: Strangers in their Own Land.

If you are a pacifist or think all war is unjust, read The Heart and the Fist.

If no one in your immediate family has been deployed, read Tribe.

None of these books solve the crisis of divide at hand here, but they do give us a small glimpse into what "the other side" might be thinking or processing or what has bolstered their belief in what's right. Rebecca Reynolds said it well in her post today on Thistle and Toad,

The beliefs of the average American are neither formed nor altered by reason. For the most part, our religion and our politics begin with affective impulses more than formal, cognitive research. What we believe about God and country is usually born in the gut, in the center of desire, nightmare, and imagination.

Many of us find our political and theological instincts early in life, then those instincts tend to interweave with a smattering of real life relationships. Over 15-years-worth of Thanksgivings, we hear that FDR destroyed America (or that he saved it). We hear praise or criticism of unions. We hear what happened to our aunts and uncles in California, or in rural Tennessee, or in Chicago as a result of legislation passed in D.C. All of these stories converge to form and then confirm a metanarrative that becomes a framework for how we interpret the entire world.

Few of us bother to fact check those metanarratives. They become too personal to vivisect. All of these beliefs have faces, because they are connected to people and situations we know.

None of us can truly understand what another person felt was at stake in this election or is at stake in the coming years, but we can certainly do our best to try. It's not as simple or cut and dried as the one-issue voters and die-hard Democrats want it to be, but none of us will grasp that if we continue to crave both "safe spaces" and "honest dialogue." The two are at complete odds with one another; there is safety in numbers, but not if all the numbers look, think, and act just like you.

If you turn away from those who don't think like you, you simply cannot complain about the state of politics in American today, you do not have the right to choose an America that only works for you or people just like you. Chance offense or hurt, your own or others, but actually listen to someone with intent to hear them instead of listening with the intent to change their mind. There's only one who changes minds, and thank the Holy Spirit, it isn't you.

If you have books or a category you think should be considered, comment below.

Some Gentle Comfort for the Election Sore

Yesterday afternoon our neighbor held a bottle of wine up over the fence and shouted for us to come over and bring the pup. We love our neighbors. When Nate and I first looked at our rental house one of the things we remarked about the neighborhood was how in the mere hour we were here, the amount of young families, children, and elderly folks walking around made living here appealing. Over the past eight months we have gotten to know most of the neighbors living on our block and more around the neighborhood. Our pup is something of a local celebrity amongst them all. But our next door neighbors are, we have agreed, the best neighbors we've ever had ever. We love them and when we move, we will be most sad to leave them. We sat around a fire, drinking wine, and talking politics for a few hours. That might sound like a nightmare to some, but in a season where deep friendships are few for us, a rousing conversation around a fire in the aftermath of the election was good. They are smart people, and have lived full lives.

A trifecta of a work contract keeping me busier than I planned, a season where, as I said, deep friendships are few, and a decision to stay off Twitter and Facebook for a while had me not very aware of election news last week. I was saddened by the outcome in some ways, and in some ways, I'll be honest, I'm expectant. I told Nate on Wednesday morning this is much like when we have friends about whose relationship we are not excited, but for whom, after marriage, we choose to cheer, encourage, pray for, and point to Christ as the center. I do not think there is anything sinful in healthy skepticism, but I do think cynicism is a slow-killing poison that too many of our countrymen drink willingly, and we do not want to take part.

I read this from Dan Rather a few days ago on a blog I read regularly, Beauty that Moves. It summed up my feelings well. I am an American and Donald Trump will be my president. And if you are a citizen here, he will be your president too. There is no question of this. Every eight years, for the most part, the presidential party swaps places. Mourn that if you choose, but also it is good to recognize that, character flaws and all, men set up the American self-government experiment to swing back and forth with gentle predictability. The best way to participate in politics is to participate in self-government ourselves. Another word for that is self-control and we all need a bit more of that fruit of the Spirit.

It seems bringing up the name Ann Voskamp brings opinions to the surface wherever and however the mention comes. Ann was one of the first bloggers over a decade ago to exchange emails with me in the newborn years of serious blogging. She will always be, for me, a gentle cheerleader and friend for it. Regardless of whether you enjoy her prose and poetic way, no one who has met her can deny that she exudes the fragrance of Christ. I loved this interview she did with my friend Katelyn on Christianity Today. Ann has taught (and still teaches) me so much about gratitude and the spiritual discipline of it. If gratitude isn't yet a part of your daily rhythm, I hope this article encourages you to start today.

Speaking of gratitude, we're living back on the east-east coast now and "Daylight Saving Time" (in quotes because you can't see me rolling my eyes) has ended, so it has started getting dark by 4 and is dark by 5:30pm. I am firmly of the belief that if it is dark, one belongs in hibernation mode, so it is taking a lot of gratitude to keep me from going to bed until seven at least. I am always reminded of the Norwegian secret to enjoying a long winter when we step over the threshold of short days. The word is Hygge and I'm sure you've heard of it. It's become something of a hype in the past year. Whether it's a myth or a way to sell books, all I know is the concept of enjoying these short days and long nights is one I need and maybe you do too. Here are some suggestions on how to (and how not to).

I hope and pray your week is full of good, constructive conversations about our President elect and the state of our country. After spending Friday in the city we call home for now, touring the Capitol, the Botanic Gardens, and a few museums, Nate and I decided to put ourselves through a refresher education on World History. We have been working on a spreadsheet overview of it, free documentaries and films we can watch, books we can each read or read selections from, and, if possible, sites we can visit. This is our way of remembering what a brief experiment America is, and how we are mere drops in the bucket of history. I think it will take us two years, at least, to get through, hopefully longer. Anything to avoid cynicism. Our spreadsheet is incomplete, but if you want to take a gander (or if you have suggestions for additions!), here's a glimpse at it. Below, you can see the Capitol building through the leaves at the Botanic Garden (which I have decided, is surprisingly best visited in the fall).

Botanic Gardens DC

 

Jesus Holds Shaking Leaves

election 2016 Today is Election Day 2016. I haven't been alive for very many years, but in all those years this has been an Election year for the history books—and today, that comforts me. I heard someone say a few weeks ago: In 100 years none of us will be here. I felt very, very small when I heard him say that, because, well, I am small, but also because 100 years is nothing really. Our country itself is only two and a near half of that. The times that 100 years have passed away in history is staggering when I think of all that has happened. I am not saying we are inconsequential or that our actions or inactions don't matter, but I am saying, we're not as strong as we think we are.

I came downstairs this morning and saw this little leaf clinging to my kitchen window screen and thought of the song by Rich Mullins:

Sometimes my life just don't make sense at all When the mountains look so big And my faith just seems so small So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf You have been King of my glory Won't You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark It's so hot inside my soul I swear there must be blisters on my heart Surrender don't come natural to me I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want Than to take what You give and I need

And I've beat my head against so many walls Now I'm falling down, I'm falling on my knees And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn And Your grace rings out so deep It makes my resistance seem so thin I'm singing hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf You have been King of my glory Won't You be my Prince of Peace You have been King of my glory Won't You be my Prince of Peace

And I thought that today maybe we all needed to remember how we are dust, leaves dropping in the autumn of history, clinging to screens for dear life, hoping yet another announcement or news program or article will offer the hope we're looking for, but maybe we also needed to remember that our King Jesus holds leaves too.

Tomorrow morning we will wake up with a new President Elect and our King still on the throne. That's good news no matter what.