No Language But A Cry

"Nearby is the country they call life; you will know it by its seriousness." -Rainer Maria Rilke

A Christianity That Needs Forgiving (how the messengers have become the message)

I’m sorry for all the times you’ve felt like we as Christians only cared about making sure your “soul goes to Heaven,” instead of caring holistically for you as an authentic, holistic, dimensional person whose person-ality comes from the Trinitarian God in whose image you were formed.

I’m sorry for all the cliché, overused, and sometimes downright ridiculous phrases you have heard Christians say.

I’m sorry for every time you’ve received a “God bless” instead of a helping hand, an “I will pray for you” instead of someone to simply listen.

I’m sorry for the truly boring literature, movies, and art we often produce—the movies that feel like Hallmark cards, the songs that repeat the same few phrases over and over again, without genuine substance. We who believe in a grand and holy meta-narrative somehow are capable of writing some of the dullest, most repetitious narratives in the world. I believe at the heart of Christianity is not just truth but deep, creative beauty, and many times we have substituted instead art that does not reflect an artistic God or an aesthetic Gospel.

I’m sorry that we are often the least proactive and the most complacent when it comes to caring about the environment—a true irony since it as a Christians that we believe in the intentionality with which God created the world and the necessity of environmental stewardship.

I’m sorry for all the times you’ve heard street preachers or protesting Christians shout messages of condemnation, leading others to conclude that Christianity must be a religion centrally about how one must constantly be better than one knows how to be.

I’m sorry for all the times you’ve walked into a church and felt as if you must hide your deepest self.

I’m sorry for all the times my love has been more selfish than selfless, more about making my life feel meaningful than about truly loving you in a way that reflects Christ’s unconditional love.

I’m sorry for the ways our faith has become a shield and a wall behind which we can hide, group together, and form clubs, ministries, churches, schools, friend groups—entire societies so impenetrable that it would be possible to live out our lifetimes from within the safety of our own walls. I’m sorry that we have used our communities to hem ourselves in more than to reach out in love and grace.

I’m sorry for how we are often the stingiest, least financially generous people on the planet.

I’m sorry that we have not stood up louder and longer for causes of injustice—racial division, police shootings, poverty, global disasters, mass incarceration, homelessness, political, ethnic, and religious strife in the Middle East, genocide, the desperation of the widow, the fear of the marginalized, the pain of the lonely.

I’m sorry that many of us, myself included, have been too content with our handful of Scripture passages and our weekly prayer meetings that we have not truly engaged our minds with the complexities of faith. We have not studied commentaries in order to discuss honestly with you the nuances of the bible; we have not challenged each other to think critically about issues of faith and theology; we have not taken your questions seriously enough to engage them with our whole selves, trusting instead that “the Word of God is living and active” and will do the work for us if it is.

I’m sorry for the ways in which we can take anything and Christianize it—thus creating Christian brands of absolutely everything—which is not so much wrong as it is misleading, as if “Christian” is simply a category we can create by sticking on a bible verse or a cross, when in actuality the Gospel is a subversive, paradoxical, and catalyzing truth that soaks into the depths of who we are, wrings us inside out, speaks life into dark places and grace into dead places, and leaves us not so much newly labelled as newly created.

I’m sorry for the ways we have not been intentional with our words, resulting either in falsity or mediocrity. We believe that God Himself is the Word, the first Word and the last Word, and by Him, language itself is a gift, capable of astounding beauty and astounding devastation. The words of Christians should be creative, flowing, meaningful, authentic, not predictable and merely (if even) adequate. We have not been responsible with our words. We have said things hastily. We have said things too easily.

I’m sorry for the way we think we have an iron-clad grasp on what is true. We dismiss the Muslim’s piety with far too little trembling; we denounce the agnostic as too much of a skeptic, when we could benefit with some skepticism ourselves. There is a necessary tension between truth that must, by definition, be exclusive, and therefore dismiss all other contrasting views as false, and truth that seeks to include everything as a reflection of itself; we are sorry for not leaning into that tension, for not admitting that we do not know, and for choosing instead to call wrong everything that does not sound and look just like us.

There is so much to ask forgiveness for. We have caused deep hurt and anger, and it is a reminder of the power of our beliefs—not just our beliefs as Christians, but belief itself—to wound as much as to woo. We are fragile, flawed, and fearful people, far more human that we sometimes want to be, and yet we believe also that we are forgiven, by God—and by God’s grace, by you. We hope that Yancey’s words are true, and that though we are not perfect by any means, we are indeed people who can be made truly alive. We hope that the messenger does not invalidate the message. Or perhaps we hope that we the messengers have become the message, not so much preaching forgiveness as being objects of it. Perhaps it is by the world’s grace toward us, we who have so often wounded in our effort to heal, that the message of Christianity is most astoundingly revealed.

a hundred things that i dont know (and about three that i do)

There are a lot of things I don’t understand right now. Faith feels strangely foreign, and all the knowledge and wisdom I’ve gleaned from people like my dad, professors, and my favorite writers—this knowledge I’ve stored up like grain over the years in order to keep me safe from famine—falls profoundly short inside this strange spiritual void.

At the same time, there are some things I do know, some things I would stake my life upon again and again because without these things, without them standing true, I could not wake up each morning. These are some of those things:

I know that I will always admit to not knowing. The other day, a friend told me that the thing she’s learned the most from our friendship is how to be okay with not knowing. Whether it’s the spiritual environment I grew up in or the poet in me or some combination of both, I have never felt the need to pretend to understand what I know I cannot. More significantly, I have never felt that questions exist primarily to be answered, and I will always fight against an evangelical culture that promotes doubt as something primarily to be stifled. I know of few ways better to alienate people from faith than by doing them the indignity of trying to answer all their questions.

I came across a news headline two nights ago that was so horrific I still freeze up when I think about it. As I tried to process through what I’d read, I thought about how for a while now, I’ve recognized that the deepest gift it feels like I can give to these victims of horrific and unjust narratives is my doubt. I want them to know that my faith stumbles over them, because it does and it should. Too often, these accounts of suffering have been presented to me as things for which I must pray for—God, heal their pain—and then leapfrog over, so that my faith still comes out in front, unscathed and unchanged. I refuse to do this. What am I telling these people about the validity of their pain, and even I would venture to say about the status of their own humanity, if I refuse to let my faith grapple with their suffering? I don’t mean lament in the sense of compassion for these stories, as necessary as that is—I’m talking about engaging spiritually with these stories that we instinctively want to shy away from, close the internet browser, drown out the taste with some passages like Romans 8 or Philippians. That doesn’t do anyone anything good. I’m not saying we should let ourselves drown in the tragedies that occur all around us, but I also don’t think our faith should be a lifeboat for us to stay out of the waves. I’d rather give you the dignity of my bruised and aching doubt than offer a gift—wrapped faith that has not taken your story into account.

I know that we cannot have truth without ambiguity. Language is ambiguous and we cannot have truth without the lens of language to frame it in. A pastor (and someone I genuinely respect) recently asked me who my favorite spiritual writer is, and when I named Frederick Buechner, asked me who that was. That’s a bit of a point in of itself, but I went on to explain how Buechner wrote poetically about matters of faith in an extremely human way. I said something about not liking writers who tried to give me answers. The pastor gave me a strange look and said he didn’t like poetry, he liked books that were straight-edged, hard-angled, and had I ever read John Piper? He then mentioned that he’d tried to read Gilead and couldn’t get halfway through it. I came away with two thoughts: the first was profound re-appreciation for the youth pastor who quoted Tolkien’s appendix to me when I was struggling and is now writing a dissertation involving Marilyn Robinson; the second was the question of how we as a Church are ever going to be relevant to anybody if we can’t resonate with truth as something deeply ambiguous, as more like poetry than prose.

I know that I would rather be recognized as a Christian by the way I live justly than the way I believe ethically. My dad told me once that he had three words when I said I didn’t understand how Christians could possibly support Trump, or blindly vote Republican even when they didn’t support the candidate: “ethics over justice.” When I look at the gospels though, I see a God who found great joy in proclaiming salvation through the acts of healing, love, and justice that foregrounded the kingdom coming down to earth. My boss at work asked me to write an article for the weekly church newsletter on abortion and suggested a book that taught how to defend the pro-life argument in five minutes (and if you had only one minute, they had a paragraph you could memorize and recite.) Abortion is one of the last topics I would ever want to write on, but with little choice, I took the article the only way I could, which was a very different direction: I said that I cringe when I hear the word “abortion,” less because of the idea of killing an unborn child and more because of my enormous reluctance to be associated with a kind of typecasted Christianity; essentially, the kind more known for standing for ethics than living out justice. I then wrote an article exploring how it is much easier to stand clearly for a certain ethic than it is to show that we care for the individual, that we love ministry as much as morality. Thankfully the article went over well and I didn’t get fired for writing an article that looked nothing like what my boss had suggested.

I mention this incident because I’ve been realizing how deeply my faith feels at odds with the culture surrounding me—not the secular culture but the Christian one. I’ve written previous posts with more detailed thoughts on this, and my desire is not to rehash all the problems I find with modern Christian culture. But I want to be honest, here of all places, because I’ve always strived for honesty on this platform: I don’t know if my faith can survive modern evangelical culture—or at least not the culture I feel trapped in at the moment. I’m not talking about thriving either. I think that a large part of why I feel so spiritually confused is because so little of who I am, the questions and experiences I’m wrestling with, and the life stage that I’m at, resonate with the services I sit in or the Christian dialogue around me. It’s growing increasingly difficult to distinguish my faith from my surroundings, and that feels like a kind of dying when my faith feels like it’s made of a very different thread than the web it’s caught in. I don’t know if I’m alone in feeling like this. Assuredly, I need to spend more time appreciating the plentiful number of things about evangelical culture that do exist. But for right now, I feel like my environment is contributing to, not helping to resolve, this spiritual lostness that I’m in. And if I feel like this even with the friends surrounding me and my upbringing, how much more so must others be struggling, those without the blessing of deep friendships or a spiritual upbringing to at least remember?

I know that there is beauty to longing. And if I know this, then I also know that absence can be more beautiful than presence. With absence comes the possibility of remembrance. I remember when prayer felt real (and I, as the pray-er, felt real, rather than feeling like “a person being a person praying.) I remember when the Bible felt true. I remember when church was the only reason I survived each week, when it was the place I felt most alive and something to be deeply trusted. I haven’t felt those things in a long time, but I remember them, piece them back together each day into a mosaic that means something.

Last night, I volunteered with a special needs ministry where I interacted with special children as well as their siblings, and it was the most life-giving thing I could have done (particularly having just read the terrible news article the night before.) It was the first time I’d interacted with special needs kids since high school and it brought me viscerally back to those years teaching adaptive P.E. and special olympics to the most beautiful people I’ve met to this day. It made me realize that, though I can look back to the season of high school as something I would never want to repeat, I can look back to the specific memories of working with those kids as some of the best times of my life. It made me profoundly thankful that that season existed in my life.

I dislike where I’m currently at. I dislike feeling more like confusion than substance, dislike emotionally recoiling every time I try to be honest with God or another person about where I’m at. For the first time I can remember, I’ve wondered if I could actually be at risk for losing my faith—still finding it beautiful, aesthetically beautiful, but not true. At the same time, like in high school, a part of me quietly knows that this is not the end. This is not abandonment, as much as it feels like it. There is the potential for remembrance, and for looking back later and recognizing the beauty of where I’m at because it’s played a fundamental part of who I am then. It is okay to to not be okay. It is okay to feel lost. I believe—by grace I believe—that sometime down the line, maybe tomorrow and maybe not for another ten years, these wounds will re-member me.

a poem for the weary ones (it takes a lot of faith to doubt like this)

Sight deceives:
Childhood taught me this.
Dusky drives home from church
Spent peering out the backseat window
Into the lamp-lit homes of strangers, strangely illuminated,
Warm and esoteric,
Like God,
Like I always knew God was.

But draw close, and the world beyond the sill
Shrinks to signify
The mere luminescence of my longing:
Living rooms are just living rooms.
The flickering world beyond the window
Dissolves again into something language can contain,
Drape itself around the aching middle, like apostasy,
Like hearths are heathens too.


words about not believing in words, and maybe not believing in belief, and maybe just not knowing

I am so tired I don’t know why I’m writing. I don’t mean just a physical weariness, an end-of-a-long-week kind of exhausted. I mean that I am so, so tired of how faith has become a game I’ve gotten too good at playing. I mean that I’m tired of how God has become the best way I know of keeping God at bay, of keeping myself safe, and obedience really just a means of propagating my love for self and control, and godly acts leave me feeling so ungodly, and what do any of the words even mean? I want to pray–I want so badly to pray the prayers I know I need, prayers like Help me to be rooted in You; Help me to find my identity in the Gospel and not in all that seems to make me me–but the words, they feel almost excruciatingly hollow for a person who has spent a lifetime digging through words like panning for gold, and I reach for them too easily, reflexively rather than earnestly, and this too is a game, don’t you know that this too is a game that I am playing in this very attempt to call it for what it is?

I can’t find the line between the wrongness of obedience only when I feel like it and obedience only because it keeps God at a distance and allows me to continue to orbit around myself. How do I rescue the Gospel from my own obsessive tendency to make it do something for me? I cannot touch without contaminating; I cannot hold without breaking; I cannot appreciate without squandering. I feel that I am my own most devastating proof against God’s existence: in believing in Him, and all that that belief selfishly attempts to do rather than simply be, I disown Him and replace Him with myself.

I want to love God for God’s sake–not for my sake, not for love’s sake. I want to be real, but it so staggeringly difficult to be real. I’m the daughter of a theologian, the graduate of a Christian institution, and I’ve never felt less like a Christian in my life. I’ve never felt so utterly confused. I spent a summer wrestling with how much I dislike various facets of Christian culture and I am ending the summer by realizing that I am Midas, thinking that I can touch and bestow worth, meaning, truth–touch, touch, touch–and instead, in the end, I am left starved and squandered and sick.





meditation in a clubhouse pool (“because water stings and heals, and I sting and heal, and we are all stinging and healing”)

The pool, empty. In the evening glow, the ceiling light reflects perfectly upon the still water, casting a mild iridescence to the chlorine blue, the gentle brown walls and stone floor. Outside the window, the night is soft, all firebug and cicada croak, but inside, the pool is softer, safer even.

When I sing in the hot tub, the water burning against my skin, it is my best and only defense against a world that terrifies. The words are insignificant, meaningless almost; what matters are the tiny melodies bouncing off the water and the walls like human perseverance in the midst of ghettos and gelato, all that sears with heaviness or insubstantiality, the notes doing their best not to touch the ground, lava, stay afloat in the water, keep your chin up, kid, you’ll be all right, it’ll be all right.

I pray in the pool as a small act of atonement for the easy words stretching themselves across impossible canvasses of grief and tragedies. See, praying in my room, on top my bed, on my knees in the forgiving carpet, I pray with only my lips. The prayers fall too casually from my mouth, while my limbs rest easy, glad they have not been asked to join in. But in the pool, when I swim laps, I feel the burn of weariness in all my muscles, the gasping need to breathe, oxygen, lungs straining, the water resistant, making me work for each movement—and it is here, in this labor, that I force myself not just to pray but to become a prayer. A for Amsterdam, with its costly freedom; B for Brett Foster’s family; I for ISIS, S for Sue and her loss; each lap becomes fifteen seconds of intercession, a confession of love, or wanting to love, or wanting to want to love, the names an oasis of flesh and blood I cannot touch except by the running stream of words in my mind while arms and legs pump for the distant wall. For the ones I miss. For the ones who miss. For the ones we keep missing. I swim a prayer for you. I swim human for you. Come, be baptized and new and human.

The pool, empty. Here I learn not so much how to be brave but how to be real, not how to pray but how to become a prayer, not how to believe but how to doubt well. There are such real fears outside this quiet room with its safe luminescence and loneliness that does not choke, so many splinters upon my skin that no amount of digging through words can remove, but here at least the slivers of trauma start to curve out, gain weight, ripen into something harvestable. You don’t have to stop being afraid. You don’t have to feel real, not yet. It is enough sometimes just to remember that you are more than what you perceive of your own existence. That you can also perceive others, in small strokes of suffering-with, and maybe the song you were singing somebody else knows, somebody else whispers, and you, too, are a letter in the alphabet of prayers, though you are not the alpha nor omega, not the beginning nor the end, and so let go, kid, let go and float on your back in the quiet of the pool and be comforted in your smallness, smallness so big as to hold in rent even one letter of the poem at all.

(is it just me, or is it you too?) pt.2: when reading the bible feels like killing the living word (if we want to find it true, maybe we have to find it beautiful)

Sometimes I think when we get to Heaven, God will look at us with affectionate exasperation and say something to the effect of, “You know, I didn’t think even you guys could make the Bible that boring.”

I recently told a friend that I had read through the book of Esther the day before because I knew that if I didn’t start finding the Bible beautiful again, I would never go back to finding it true. Reading the book of Esther, with all its elements of a good story, was enough to remind me why I missed the Bible, and so I’ve been reading through the Epistles lately.

This morning, as I read slowly through Philippians, I realized once again that the majority of the New Testament is letters. Sure, it contains theology and rules and admonitions, but first and foremost, we’re reading the letters of Paul to the people he loves. Sometimes I think our reverence for Scripture, while assuredly appropriate, actually detracts from our understanding of what we’re reading; a modern Bible would likely look less like our devotional materials and more like our private wrestlings in our journals or our letters to our friends. Does that amaze anyone else? Does it make anyone else wonder why we read the Bible the way we do?

The Bible is a collection of narrative histories, poetry and songs, stories, memoirs, and letters; in other words, it is a book of creativity and relationship. It is, when it comes down to it, the story of how God chose the most pathetic, humiliated, laughingstock of a nation and chose it for Himself, and how even though that nation spit back in His face over and over and over again, He condescended to establish covenants with them until the final covenant was to incarnate Himself into a person so that they really could spit in His face and He could feel it and die for them and kiss them in response. It is also the story of how God created the first Adam, and the first Adam screwed things up big time, but God sent another Adam to be effectively the person we know in the mirror, lifting arm for arm, leg for leg, but this time doing it right where Adam went wrong, so that while our lineage is in the first Adam of dust, our inheritance lies with the second Adam of Heaven. It is also the story of how, through relationship with the most beautiful man who ever existed, we get to adopt ourselves into both of these scandalous and gorgeous stories, creating one giant meta-story that will one day finally end with a beginning.

I believe in the Truth of Scripture, whatever exactly that’s supposed to mean, but I also believe passionately in the subjective truth of Scripture, or perhaps I can call it the  experiential nature of stories. The Bible has always seemed to me to be more about beauty than truth, more about plotline and paradox than creeds, and rather than being so grand as to exclude my sense of self, the way I so often feel when I listen to sermons or attend bible studies, it is so intimate that my very nature, my personality, my interests, and my memories, are entirely necessary for me to understand it. It’s a book that is indeed “living and active,” but that seems to me not just to mean application but relationship–that when I open the Bible, it takes a deep breath and asks to know me as much as it asks me to know it. Take Ecclesiastes, for instance. It’s a book basically telling me that everything is meaningless, that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never truly accomplish something lasting, and that I might as well do whatever I want with my life because by the time I die, I’ll be forgotten anyway. This is Scripture, and I absolutely love that it is because I think those same thoughts at least four times a day, and when I read through Ecclesiastes, I don’t feel that I know God so much as that He knows me, that his “living and active Word” has indeed re-membered me because it knows me so well. And sometimes I worry that our modern approach to the Bible is to try to exegete and apply and dissect all the life out of it (ex: the popular inductive bible study, where one finds the sole objective truth of the passage and applies it one’s life), so that what remains is some dull book with super thin pages and tons of little numbers that are supposed to somehow help me make it to the next day, except it’s so boring that the very reading of it feels like it might do me in.

Here’s the thing: when I wrote my previous blog post on why I’d rather go to the opera than church, I thought I’d anger a few people and maybe hear some thoughts on why people disagree. Instead, more people read the post and responded to it than anything I’ve previously written on this blog. It made me realize that other people feel the same way, ask the same questions about why we do Christianity the way we do, and I find that realization utterly life-giving. Because it is tiring to be tired of how we do faith these days, and it’s also lonely, and the fact that this is a shared feeling means something. And maybe if we can all be a little more lovingly critical, we can start making Christianity compelling again, not in an effort to make Christianity relevant to our culture but in an effort to make Christianity relevant to Christianity. I don’t believe in the Gospel, the Church, or Scripture because I find it true; I believe in the Gospel, the Church, and Scripture because despite the fact that I so often don’t find it true, I cannot help finding it staggeringly beautiful, in a way that claims my aesthetic nature before it claims my moral or rational nature. And not only do I think this is okay, but I think it’s a far cry more interesting to the world out there. The beauty helps me to believe, not the other way around. And if we want to show a hurting and broken and exploding world a true Christianity, maybe first we need to show them a beautiful Christianity, and from there let them navigate their way from appreciation to confession–as a lifelong journey, full of mystery and stories from the road, the way it was always supposed to be.

a lesson from starfish, or maybe just groping for words when it all feels like too much


Would that we were Phataria,
The one house divided upon itself that stands.
Then, when our arms soaked in plastic vests waterproof but not bulletproof
Melt from our overheating, grief-stricken and gardenless rib cage,
We could simply step away, abandon ship,

And watch as our severed limbs become our best sign
Of eschatology. Starfish, you are the envy of the theologian,
The only ones among us fit to take bread and cup; if you taught us
The meaning of regeneration, would we be humble enough to learn?
If, hypothetically speaking, a moment of soft-shelled epiphany
Crawled its way to our jettison and prodigal arms,
Mythological as the comets they were named for,
And we realized that we’ve amputated our most exposed wounds,
Skipping the healing phase in our haste to guarantee rebirth,
Could you help us regenerate the meaning of regeneration?

Though it occurs to me, when it comes to regeneration,
Perhaps we have more to learn from your stomach than your limbs,
Starting with your honesty about where your hunger lies.
Our ability to swallow supersedes our ability to digest,
but your inverted stomachs make confession synonymous with creed
(Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.)
We have spoken too much, I fear, for our speech
And our appetites are not so symbiotic an affair as yours,

Not nearly so equal in our understanding of palettes.
For example, we have yet to figure out why, if we are predators,
We so deeply fear our prey, and why, if we are prey,
Our instinct for hunting is so great.
Meanwhile, limbless and fearful of arms strong enough for mutiny,
We continue to confuse regeneration with repentance;
Despite all our attempts at resurrection, the spineless, not the strong,
Have something to teach us about rebirth, and in our pews each Sunday,
It remains our backbones that make sinners of us all.