Faith, like a child

'my sweet freedom' photo (c) 2009, Victor Bezrukov - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Faith, like a child, you are wilder than I want.

You are harder to predict than you once were, 
Harder to control.
Oh they are illusions of control, I know. 
But I try, 
When I dress you up in fine, fashionable clothes so that you will look like the others,
When I keep you at home to protect you from the world, 
When I try, in vain, to fight the pull of time so it won’t change anything about the way you laugh, the way you whisper, the way you play—all these little ways I know are yours alone. 

Faith, like a child, you never ask permission before growing, 
before stretching your arms out in the world like you own the place,
before suddenly turning inside yourself, 
before surprising me or disappointing me or throwing me off with some new habit, some new quirk.
Just when I think I know who you are, you evolve into someone new, and we have to get reacquainted with one another, like we’re starting all over again.
Why can’t you just stay still? 
Why can’t I rock you through a lullaby without you wiggling free? 

Faith, like a child, you are the object of my greatest hopes and fears.
The thought of your death preoccupies my thoughts. 
You are far too fragile, far too dependent. 
It could happen, you know—
because I looked away for just a second, because I didn’t notice that something was wrong, because I exposed you to an illness, because I entrusted you with the wrong person, because of circumstances beyond my control. 
I want to hold you tighter, but I no longer trust my arms to carry your weight. 

Faith, like a child, you frighten me. 
I am afraid to blow on your glowing embers, for fear that my breath will spark a wildfire,
Or snuff you out. 
I am afraid to hold you too tightly, to hold you too loosely, 
Afraid of when you look too much like me, 
Afraid of when you look like a stranger, like someone else’s child.

But faith, like a child, you are resilient,
Like your Sister, you bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.
You are braver than you ought to be, more trusting than is safe.
Like a child, you make the most fanciful connections between things—
Metaphors that only make sense between the two of us,
Art that in its simplicity gets right to the essence of a bug, a sunrise, a family, a death. 
You are whimsy. 
You are curiosity. 
You are petulance. 
You are grace. 
You are a little hurricane of life and destruction and healing that upsets everything in your path. 
Faith, like a child, you ask too many questions. 

Faith, like a child, I love you. 
Unconditionally. 
And I vow to do my best to provide discipline when you need it, freedom when you need it, protection when you need it, and space when you need it, 
So that when the day comes, you will be ready to care for me. 

[This is a very rough draft! I wrote it as I was trying to make a decision about whether or not to put myself in a vulnerable position that could very well trigger another crisis of faith.  As I was weighing the pros and cons, I began to think of my faith like a child—is it ready for this? am I protecting it too much? am I not protecting it enough? I’d never really thought about my faith like that before. Have you?]

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Scattered thoughts on my life in the Christian “industry”

'Wren sat on reed screen, Leighton Moss RSPB, May 2009' photo (c) 2009, Gidzy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A lot of churches have green rooms these days.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that. 

I sit in the green room, fidgeting with my water bottle and trying not to make eye contact with the famous preacher whose pictures line the walls. I wonder if they’re expecting someone like him today, and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to speak in front of a room full of people without getting pee-in-my-pants nervous about it, without feeling out-of-place.

Afterwards, people will have questions.  

Questions I don’t have the answers to. 

And I’ll watch the disappointment spread across their faces when they realize that I’m just as frightened and confused as they are about this thing we call faith, that I’m not the authority figure they think that they need. 

There are microphones and there are lights, and sometimes it feels like a big performance. I wish Lady Gaga would show up and do it instead. 

I fit in best with those who don’t fit in. 

A group of 200 people, half of whom identify as LGBT, laughs at all the right spots, waits patiently through the hiccups, embraces me like a sister. 

There is bread and there is wine, and sometimes it feels like heaven come to earth. And I am grateful in a way I’ve never known before. 

A man comes up to me afterwards and says it was the first time in fifteen years he felt brave enough to take communion. We were brave together, I think. 

But I soon forget the conversation because I’m too busy arguing with my publisher. They won’t let me use the word “vagina” in my book because we have to sell it to Christian bookstores, which apparently have a thing against vaginas. I make a big scene about it and say that if Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn’t be able carry the freaking Bible.

I tell everyone that I’m going to fight it out of principle, but I cave within a few days because I want Christian bookstores to carry the sanitized version of my book because I want to make a lot of money, because we’ve needed a new roof on our house for four years now, and because I really want a Mac so I can fit in at the mega-churches. 

I feel like such a fraud. 

And then a reader bakes me cookies. And then I get an email of encouragement from Australia. And then I share a meal with fellow searchers. And then I sit next to the cutest little girl on the flight home, and she reminds me of the true marvel that is soaring above the clouds. 

And I want to do well by these good people. 

And then my inbox gets a bit too full. And then a commenter calls me a whore. And then Mark Driscoll gets interviewed by Piers Morgan.  And then I am warned not to tell anyone about the "gay church." And then I start to worry about my "brand." And then I’ve gone weeks without seeing my real-life friends and neighbors because I’m too busy traveling the country telling other people to love their friends and neighbors. 

And I get overwhelmed and angry and tired in a way I’ve never been tired before. 

Can this...industry...be good for the soul? 

***

I pull into the driveway after a long trip, and witness a miracle.  

Pip, the gray wren who shows up every spring, is rebuilding her nest in the corner of our carport again. I thought for sure that she had kicked the can last year, when she suddenly disappeared, leaving a baby bird behind. Yet here she is again! She has pushed the baby bird's bones out of the nest and lined her house with fresh twigs.  (We have witnessed a lot of life and death in our carport through the years.)

At the sight of her silhouette in my headlights, I put my head on the steering wheel and cry. 

Maybe it’s because I’m overtired. 

Maybe it’s because I’m just glad to be home. 

Or maybe it’s because the first story I ever wrote was about a bird and a nest. 

It was third grade, and I wrote the story to read out loud at the annual third grade talent show. It was called “A Helping Wing,” and it told of a little robin who broke her wing and needed help building her nest. A troupe of local mockingbirds and cardinals, sparrows and owls brought pieces of their own nests to add to hers, and they all lived happily ever after. 

After the talent show, the mother of another student came up to me and said that my story made her cry... in a good way.

And that was when I knew I wanted to be a writer. 

Now I’m crying into the steering wheel because it’s been harder than I thought to stay the course, harder than I thought to remember why I’m doing all of this in the first place. 

But Pip has just reminded me:  

I’m here to write about how a little gray wren builds her nest in our carport every year and to wonder what this might say about God. 

It’s that simple. 

It's that hard. 

It's that wonderful. 

But a lot of churches have green rooms these days.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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Natori

Some people have pastors who explain these things
but I don’t
know why she sits alone amidst the bodies that the water left behind—
bodies of houses, bodies of cars, bodies of boats, bodies of people—
knees bent,
arms clasped beneath bare thighs, 
held together by the stiff embrace of a sob,
or why the earth shook,
or why the water came,
or why she has taken off her boots,
or why she sits alone amidst the bodies that the water left behind; 
I only know that I don’t 
want a pastor who explains these things.

 (This is the photo that inspired the poem.  Are there any photos/images that have haunted you?)

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The earthquake

Before we turn this into a theological debate, 

Before we declare what God has in mind, 

Before we demand answers to all of our questions, 

Before, in our arrogance, we propose an explanation…

Let us weep, 

Let us hurt, 

Let us pray,

Let us help. 

Donate to World Vision or the Red Cross.

 

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