The Kind of Wells We Find at Home

I had promised myself to post more here these days. To be a hunter of beauty and a finder of joy in a season where everywhere we look are reminders of fracturing and fragility. I don't really believe that, though, I think. Lately I've been reminded of how whole and perfect and beautiful things are and are becoming. Staying away from the angry articles and interviews and response blogs and angry response blogs and retweeted tweets is helpful for that though. Eternity really is written on the hearts of men, but I guess sometimes we think hell is eternity and not heaven. I've been grateful for heaven this past week. I went home and on my way there I sent a text to Nate: "Where is home for you?" I asked. "If there's anywhere in the world that feels, smells, tastes like home, where is that, for you?" He responded a bit later. "Virginia or D.C., I thought, but now that we're here, it doesn't. Maybe Germany. Not Turkey. Not New Jersey. Not Michigan. Not Georgia. Maybe Texas, I lived there the longest. What about you?" I wasn't sure how to answer but as I continued to drive north and the bite of cold worked its way into my bones and the leaves grew more and more brilliant, I knew it was here, or at least here was the way to home. Eternity is written on our hearts, but earth is worked into our soles, embedded there with soil and leaves and tastes and scents of home. And so, I went home for a few days and it was lovely. New York in the fall always is.

While I was there I made it my aim to spend time with two women I love and with whom my time is always too short when I stop there for a few days. We had good conversations and talked about hard things. Mostly they talked and I listened but I felt my heart swell with love for both of them. And I also felt it swell with the kind of admiration I want to have for more people and don't. They are walking through hard, hard, hard things and doing it well. Broken, sad, hurting, questioning, but this is the kind of well I think more of us need to draw from. The deep and aching sob of hurt reaches down past the normalcy of everyday, the kinds of days full of predictable nonsense and unexpected joy. These wells are deeper than that and rare to find. I think of the book of Psalms, the 84th chapter:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

The valley of Baka, or Baca, means the valley of tears, and another translation says, "They make it a place of wells." This is what tears do, if we'll let them. They pool in us deep caverns of proven grace, proven character, and a proven God, and they become wells. Spring rains bring life and flowers and greens everywhere, but autumn rains pull the dead and dying leaves from their stark trees, making dead things seem deader. But the poet said once, "Be like the trees. Let the dead things drop."

The dead things, I find, for me these days, are feelings of shame, fear, uncertainty. It has been a rocking year, one I would never repeat if offered prizes of greatest worth. Shame has been my constant enemy and fear its close neighbor, tears have felt at times like my only friend. But if I can just let this valley of tears pool itself into wells, I know there is sustenance to be found there. I believe it with all my heart.

. . .

I was glad to arrive at the weekend with no knowledge of any election news, no interviews with famous Christian women, and a naive belief that God was repairing and preparing this world instead of breaking it. I dipped my toe into the latest for a minute, but found the well of my tears a better pool to swim in these days. Here are some beautiful things I've read this week:

From John Blase (whose poetry you should be reading, and whose letters to Winn you should also be reading): I’ll never forget that rainy day I wore my Scout uniform to school not knowing our meeting was cancelled. Those were halcyon days before group text messages and reverse 911s.

From Cloistered Away: Training sounds like such an intense word, but all it is: reestablishing the order and peace of the home. The goal isn’t to lead perfect lives; it’s to heed the red flags as helpful guides letting us know some things need to change. Today always offers a fresh start and new mercy. When life feels chaotic, here is what we do to cultivate peace in our home again.

From Literary Hub: Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.

This quote from George Eliot in her Letters to Miss Lewis keeps going round and round in my head. I read it many years ago think of it every autumn. I hope you love this season as much as I do, and if you don't, I hope someday you do. Just because, no reason, just because. Below is a photo I took at home. I stood there and was reminded me of her Delicious Autumns.

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love - that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one's very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

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The Unbelonging

Read any media and you'll find a full on rushing swipe at Christians and conservatives. We've been told we're in the minority for a while now, and as shots ring out across the media, we duck and run, scrambling to assert our position as the new moral minority. prisonI've always been a fan of the fringe. If you can stand on the sidelines and affect change from within, you've followed the model Christ set forth well. I watched a movie a few months ago in which the principal characters return to high-school incognito. They're so far removed from high-school that what was cool then is not cool now. The jocks are jerks and the nerds are neat. What happened?

What happened is regardless of seeming strength, the sidelined and fringe affected change because they weren't swayed by what was happening in the middle of the action. Now that the nerds are cool, though, there are different fringe characters at play and this is the way of all life's ebb and flow. Remember The Heart is a Lonely Hunter?

“But look what the Church has done to Jesus during the last two thousand years. What they have made of Him. How they have turned every word He spoke for their own vile ends. Jesus would be framed and in jail if he was living today.”

We turn the vile into heroes and the hope-full into anti-heroes. Whatever fits our flavor and palate.

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If you tell the truth long and stayed enough you're going to be spit upon and hated. And if you love the fringe, the sick, the depraved, the sinners, the forgotten, and you love them with a love that values life and every cell and micro-organism and biology and mind and fault and fear and heart and sweat and blood and tears, you will not find a political home. If you are so pro-life that you rally for the rights of a two week old babe in the womb as fiercely as you fight for the right of life for a confused 13 year old or a broken 45 year old or a confident 60 year old or an aged 82 year old, you will find uneasy company in the Church. You fight not for quality of life, but life itself.

Jesus said He brings Life Abundant and who shouldn't have that?

Whether you fall in the fallen moral majority or the rising moral minority or whether you are just a sidelined character going about your business as if nobody cares, because nobody does, Jesus cares and He sees. And you are not alone.

We're all so homesick to belong, but if you are a child of God, you do not and cannot belong to this world. You may be liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional—but you do not belong and in this common life we can rejoice. So friends, be slow to rejoice in wins or losses, thrusts in your party platform or your pet politic, be slow to rejoice in anything but Heaven come to earth and the King on His throne.

See how you are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses!? Let us throw off every sin and the weight that so easily entangles us and let us run with patience this race marked out for us, setting our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despised the shame, and sits down at the right hand of his father. Hebrews 12

Liberty for All

My family isn't from America. We're Scotch-Irish. Family crests tattooed on flesh, bagpipes at weddings, hot tempers, strong drinks, and my older brother wore a kilt to his wedding: that kind of Scotch-Irish. I expect my ancestors were the sort coppers in the 19th century had their eyes on. We had the sort of Scotch-Irish lore that birthed a quiet pride in us all. We are Ferguson-Bradys, through and through. I grew up outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, though, where we watched reenactments of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas, toured Valley Forge more times than I can remember, and the Liberty Bell was a familiar sight. We were Americana Americans. But as much as I felt like an American, I also knew I wasn't this kind of American.

I am not of the colonial Americans; I am of the immigrant kind.

When this realization came upon me, I began to feel a somewhat deeper kinship with places like Ellis Island than I did with the statue of William Penn peeking above the rooftops in downtown Philly. Whether my ancestors came through Ellis Island didn't matter to me, the reality was that I was of another place. William Penn was not mine in the same way those bedraggled masses filing through ports in New York City were mine.

Whenever I read the words of Emma Lazarus in her poem, The New Colossus, affixed to the Statue of Liberty, a small sob catches in my throat and an overwhelming gratitude fills my heart.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I am more of Lady Liberty than I will ever be of William Penn. I am a sojourner in a country that is not my home. But even more than that, I am a spiritual sojourner in a land not my own, I am tired and poor, yearning to breath free, tempest-tossed, and more. My haven is secure and the same invitation is to everyone.

Right now we have thousands of children crossing into our borders. Escaping poverty, violence, corruption, and danger in their homeland. They are six and seven years old, some are sixteen and seventeen. They seek a haven and we all want to pull out our constitution, talk about borders and control, and how many of us have read the book of Exodus recently? Or Hebrews? Or, goodness gracious, Revelation?

Brothers and sisters, we cannot look too far behind us before we come against a father or mother in our lineage who came to America looking for a better life. Did they get one right away? I don't know. They might have been Irish immigrants, like mine, angry and drunkards. But those immigrants fathered me and they might have fathered you. Even if you can trace your lineage to colonial America, think of what they escaped and why the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was written?

Think, then, of looking toward your heavenly country, the better kingdom. This world, this new world, America, land of opportunity and middle class and welfare and democracy, it isn't home, so do not treat it as such. Not for you immigrant, son of Heaven.

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Christian Caricatures

caricature The thing about caricatures is you always know who it is just by looking at it, and yet, you know you can't trust the likeness.

Right?

A caricaturist zeros in on several points on a person's face. Maybe it's a slightly larger nose, or a bit of a crooked smile, or maybe something as pedestrian as deeply blue eyes or a natural blush. The caricaturist's aim is to exaggerate and minimize what sets the face apart. His aim is not to make ugly, but often times a caricature looks ugly. If you've ever had one done you know the righteous indignation that accompanies first sight,

"I don't really look like that!" you say, and of course you don't.

But you kind of do. Not really. But sort of. Enough that you're recognizable, not enough that anyone who knows your face well would say it's an exact likeness.

Within culture at large, and Church culture especially, caricaturists abound. In some ways, they're the comedians of the inner circle; the Jon Acuff and Jen Hatmakers. They zone in on the ridiculous and ludicrous parts of the Christian life and family and help us all laugh at ourselves. They satire, and they're good at it, and we laugh at them because they're helping us laugh at ourselves.

When Caricature goes badly is when a sly artist studies a theology or movement solely to find the weak or shallow parts. Then they pound out a blog post heard round the world for a split second and then life goes on as normal. A moment of fame while everyone points and laughs at the funny man in the picture, asks how could he be so silly and stupid and ugly, and how could he not know he's so silly and stupid and ugly.

Ha ha.

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Here's the other thing about caricatures: we know the elongated nose or tiny eyes or stout neck are true about us; in fact, nobody sees our face in the mirror, under such a microscope as we do.

But when the caricature is passed around as truth for long enough, everyone starts to believe that's our real face. That's who we really are. But it's not.

That's not the person who wakes up in the morning, drinks their coffee while they read the bible, who packs lunch for her kids or drops the shampoo in the shower, who can't find their keys where they left them, who buys coffee for the person behind them in line, who killed it at the meeting with his coworkers, who meets weekly with a guy who just needs prayer and a friend, who forgot to put gas in the car, who falls into bed every night exhausted and confident that they are doing exactly what God designed them to do and be and look like.

Who cares about a caricature when there are real people to be seen?

If you are tempted to zero in on a particular face of a movement and draw for the world a caricature they won't forget, what you need to remember is at the end of the day we throw those caricatures in the garbage. Nobody really wants to look at them, and especially not the subject of the drawing. Why? Because it's not true. It's partially true, which makes it not true.

If you want people to listen to what you have to say, really listen, not just rally around you, or press like on your Facebook post, you have to sit with them and be true with them, and be truthful about them.

I asked an artist one time, a man who paints likenesses that almost breathe with life, how he made the paintings.

"Do you take a photo and paint from that?" I asked him.

"Oh, no," he said, "I make the subject sit in front of me, hours and hours and hours. How could I paint them life-like if I did not see them living?"

Why I am Pro-Choice

I was small, small enough that my parents were still zipping my coat and tying my shoes. The signs were bigger than me and we stood out on the sidewalk in the cold in front of a hospital in southeastern Pennsylvania. I remember my father lifting me up to put money in the parking meter. Sometimes we ate hotdogs afterward with our fellow marchers and house church members. I remember complaining sometimes about our weekly march. I didn't know what abortion was, but I knew what babies were because we always had babies in our house. We loved babies, ours and others.

We loved them so much, I thought, we were willing to stand on the street corners and sidewalks around the hospital holding grotesque and provacative signs in front of shocked patients.

Holding signs in silent protest of abortion isn't cool. It stopped being cool around the same time fundamentalism took a steep decline and social justice, ironically, took a steep climb.

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This week I read a tweet from RC Sproul Jr., "I believe in a baby's right to choose."

Maybe our signs said some variation of that, but mostly our tactics were intimidation, either through guilt or manipulation. Get dirty if you have to, the lives of the most innocent are at stake. Our intentions were good.

But the simplicity of Sproul's tweet sticks to me this week in particular.

He has taken the pro-choicer's entire argument and given it to them in decadent fullness.

Of course we believe in the right to choose, we believe it in all the way back to the beginning, the conception, the fusing together of cells and formation of the brain, the movement of the heart, the limbs, and the lungs.

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No one is arguing for the abortion of three and four year olds, but three and four year olds have similar decision making abilities as infants. Of course there is a small gap of maturity, but a child who cannot zip her coat or tie her shoes, whose father has to lift her to put his money in a meter to park a car she can't drive—how limited is her ability to choose?

We cannot know how any child's life will turn out, but shouldn't we give them the basic right to choose? Or, less even, the ability to learn to make choices?

Every choice—for better or worse—my parents made for me as a young child resulted in growth and maturity, raising me into a responsible adult who makes wise choices of her own now.

One choice I make is to not hold signs in front of hospitals. I think there is a better way. But if I have children someday I hope they find an even better way. I hope my children will look back to my generation and my parent's generation and see the Holocaust of abortion will have lasted 40 years longer than it could have.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that my generation, the one who has lost 55 Million of our brothers and sisters, will be a holistically pro-choice generation.

We will be the generation who chooses life.