11.27.2014

Actually, the Thought Doesn't Count


It's Thanksgiving. Can you believe it?!

Thanksgiving day means the Holiday Season is upon us... and that makes everything inside of me want to run away and live in a cave for the next month. 

I know I should be excited because it's THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR and all that crap, but I kind of hate the holidays. And by kind of, I mean completely.

“The Holidays” will swoop in today on the carcass of a fat, dead turkey and there's nothing anybody can do about it. I'm already gearing up to emerge from the bliss of my annual Thanksgiving food coma, only to careen into a state of perpetual anxiety over all the stuff that follows our national day of gorging and gratitude.

By 5am tomorrow the world will have been launched into the madness we call Christmastime, and I am guaranteed to lay awake at night for the next 4 weeks obsessing over food, sweating over money, and burning with shame at my inability to give presents that people actually like or want. I know it sounds crazy, but the Holiday Season just isn't that fun when what you don't have is any money, and what you do have is a history of eating disorders and a proven track record of lame gift giving. 

It's like a trifecta of month long misery for a person like me. It's so stressful, it just makes me wanna poop.

And can we talk about the gift-giving thing for a sec? I know that some people are really good at choosing, making, buying, wrapping, and giving awesome presents, but I am not one of those people. For me, the annual tradition of everyone giving everyone else gifts is stressful, uncomfortable, embarrassing, and awkward. I'm not a planner, I'm not all that creative, I'm not particularly intuitive, and I have NO money, so when it comes to gift giving, I don't enjoy the process and nobody enjoys the results.

Fun, right?!

I think people who are good at this kind of thing have a moment when they see the joy and surprise and gratitude on the face of the person opening their gift, and I'm guessing that that moment makes the time and money they invested feel worthwhile. But, imagine the opposite. Imagine a gift being opened to a glimmer of disappointment, a glance of disinterest, or a genuine look of W.T.F. …Even if the words that follow are the same (Thank you! That's so sweet! I've always wanted a walrus hide belt. You shouldn't have. No, really, I mean it...You shouldn't have.), the tone is a dead giveaway – if that “thank you” lilts like a sad trombone, sorry, but your gift bites.


The choral *womp-womp* of disingenuous "thank you's" upon the ears of the gift-giving-challenged can make the Holiday Season a sort of personal hell. While all the normal people are writing their lists and checking them twice, bad gift givers are aimlessly scrolling through Amazon's holiday deals and clicking through gift-guides on Pinterest, desperate to find everyone we love the perfect thing ...or really anything. Because what we're really desperate for is to get this whole damn thing over with.


It's just so much pressure!

11.20.2014

Choose well. Invest wisely. (Reimagining Short-Term Missions)

It's possible you already know of my distaste for short-term missions. I haven't really been shy about it, and if you've been around here for more than like five minutes, you know I think they're often more harm than good. If you've read any of the series I wrote about short-term missions, then you know I believe if they aren't done well, they can be a terrible waste of resources, a gross misrepresentation of God's #Blessing, an unbalanced act of mutual exploitation, and a dependency creating, dignity killing, Western Colonial clusterfluck. Among other things.

Anyway.

This weekend? My church is sending a short-term team to Cambodia.

I'm dead serious, you guys.

We're sending seven upper-middle class suburbanites half way across the world to do like four days of work with a ministry focused on the prevention, rescue, and restoration of victims of sex-trafficking. And, oh, it's going to cost around $30,000.

THIRTY. THOUSAND. DOLLARS.

I don't know about you, but I think that's more than a hell of a lot of money. That's like ten hells of a lot of money. Honestly, that is so much freaking money to send seven freaking people overseas for a freaking handful of days to work in an area and a culture and language they don't know a freaking thing about.

It sounds just like the kind of short-term mission I love to hate, and if you were to stand up and shout, “BUT YOUR HUSBAND IS THE MISSIONS PASTOR! HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?!” at your computer screen, that would seem totally fair.

I've spent a lot of time and energy and words talking about how messed up I think short-term missions are, but I haven't shared much about ways we could do them better. That's kind of not cool and I'm sorry. But the team we're sending off to Cambodia this weekend? Well, I actually think they're a pretty great example of a better way of doing this thing. So, yes, we are spending 30 grand to send seven white people overseas, and, yes, I do approve whole heartedly (not that my approval matters, but you know what I mean). I will be cheering every second of this trip on so hard, and here's why:


First of all? We're not sending a single volunteer. NOT ONE.

11.18.2014

Put the Bible Back in Schools

A million years ago my real-life, non-blogger, probably-not-even-addicted-to-the-internet friend, Jenna Kemp, rocked this little corner of the WorldWideWeb with her words, and I've been begging pleading nagging asking her to write us another post ever since. AND NOW SHE HAS! AND OMG.
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Sometimes I hate talking to new people at parties. There comes a point in most conversations when we ask each other the question, “So, what do you do?” I’m still trying to figure out a way that I can answer this question without launching into a religious discussion, and, to be honest, I feel ambivalent about the fact that answering this question leads to such a discussion.

Here’s the thing: I study the Bible (the Hebrew Bible, or the Christian Old Testament). I study the Bible in its historical context and the community who produced it. I study its literary qualities, its politics, its ambiguities, its story-telling strategies, and the multiple identities embedded in this ancient text. I am interested in what a text is, what the Bible is, the role and process of literary production in the ancient world, how each part of the Bible came to be, and how they all got put together. I am interested in tuning my ear to the Bible’s own voices and exposing those voices to others. I love that moment when study folds time and I can actually approach the ancient world through this tiny, intricate, fragile rabbit hole of a text.

So when I go to parties and tell someone that I’m doing my Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible, and they look at me totally confused and say, “Do you want to be… a… pastor?” or, “So – are you, like, religious?” or, “So do all the prophecies about what will happen in the future scare you?” (true story, really happened – and btw, no), I get frustrated.

It’s not that I get frustrated at this person in front of me asking, perhaps, the only question that they know how to ask (some people literally just walk away, so god bless the soul that has no idea what I’m talking about and tries anyway). It’s not that I get frustrated that a complete stranger is asking me super personal questions. The thing that really frustrates me is that our culture has created a space for the Bible that allows for only these kinds of questions to be asked. In our popular imagination, the Bible is a religious book for religious people who want to find answers in it, answers that they can then use to smack people with.

11.13.2014

Fire Bones.

(A #TBT repost from Jan/2011)


He said, “There’s a fire in my bones!” And he said it like he meant it...

We were talking about the Church and the world, and where we see God moving in them, and when the conversation turned to art and writing and music, he got very excited. He stretched his arms out wide and kind of bounced up and down a couple of times, the way someone does at a concert when the bass drops or something. He stood there for a second, swaying to the tune of some unheard song, then he clapped his hands together and that’s when he said it, the thing about having fire in his bones.

I wanted to stay, but I had to get out of there. I felt weird. I felt sort of... envious. I was thinking, “I want that. I want fire bones.

And then I thought, “If you write about this, don’t say ‘fire bones’ because it sounds like some kind of venereal disease.”

And then I was like, “Of course, if it was an STD, it would be a whole lot easier to get. ...But then for sure you couldn’t write about it.

Because that's how my brain works. So anyway.

I sat in the car for a few minutes wondering about the disparity between my friend and me. Here he was, lit up for the things of God -- and I stood right next to him, holding a barely burning ember in the sweaty palm of my hand, hoping that no one else could see the difference between us.

11.04.2014

#Blessed.

If there's one thing Christians love, it's being blessed.

Our blessings usually come in the form of material goods or cold, hard cash. But if you do a quick search of hashtag/blessed, you'll find we also enjoy blessings of health, abundance of any form, good weather, good grades, good food, work promotions, winning games, sleeping babies, coffee, wine, narrowly averted disasters, and, better yet, other people's disasters -which remind us our lives aren't as nearly bad as that poor bastard over there. Other blessings include date night, gym time, nap time, quiet time, fishin' time, and any other time known as “His timing”.

What can I say? We are just so #blessed.

If you truly need something and then you get it? Congratulations, you've been #blessed! If you want something frivolous and it shows up? You're #blessed! If you achieve any sort of success, whether by effort or accident? #Blessed. If you experience something truly miraculous, like you survive a plane crash, or your Mom's advanced cancer disappears? Obviously, that's a huge #blessing! But if something super ordinary happens to you, like you give birth to a plain old healthy baby, or you're in a teeny tiny fender-bender where no one got hurt, or you hit every green light on your way to work? You're also very #blessed.

We get off on a good blessing! And because we aren't total a-holes, we love to pass our blessings along to others.

We actually go on mission trips specifically for the purpose of "blessing" other people. We gather our teenagers and soccer moms and we send them to third world countries to build shitty houses to bless the poor, and when the poor people ask why we've flown across the planet to visit for a week, we tell them it's because God loves them and wants us to bless them. When we get home from blessing 'the least of these' with a freshly painted whatever and an acknowledgement of their blighted human existence, the blessings abound evermore, as we say things like, “I think they blessed me even more than I blessed them.”

sigh...

There are about 50 words and phrases I'd like to banish from the vocabulary of the North American Church forever and ever - 'missions/missional/missionary' and 'it's a God thing' among them - but way up there at the top of my list is the term “blessed”.

Bless. Blessed. Blessing... In the infamous words of the not-so-left-handed sword fighter, Inigo Montoya,

You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I learned this the hard way (the day a gecko almost touched my lady business), but Blessed doesn't really mean what we think it means, because most of the time when we use the word blessed what we really mean is pleased.

“Dear internet, something pleasant has occurred which pleases me. #Blessed”