Resolutions for 2009

I’ve always been extremely goal-oriented...and aside from the relentless perfectionism and crushing fear of failure, this quality has served me well in life. So as you can imagine, I just love making New Year’s resolutions.  Here are some of mine for 2009. What are yours?

  1. Prioritize my career without feeling guilty about it.
  2. Finish the Book (Now that I have a publisher, I have 0 excuses and 1 deadline– April 1)
  3. Write at least 500 words a day, six days a week, until deadline. I will not answer the phone, check e-mail, blog, hang out with friends, or exercise until those 500 words are written.  If it takes until noon, great. If it takes until 3 a.m., fine. 500 words. No excuses, no matter what.
  4. Give my book every chance to succeed by writing it well, listening to my editor and agent, and employing smart marketing strategies.
  5. Come to terms with the fact that no amount of success will convince me that I’m a good writer or a worthwhile person. I have to believe that for myself.
  6. Lose the same 10 pounds that I lose every year, only keep them off this time (or at least until my 10-year high school reunion!)
  7. Speak less and listen more.
  8. Be more deliberate in initiating friendships with people who are different than me.
  9. Decide what to do about church.
  10. Show more compassion to myself and others.
  11. Treat everyone as my teacher, even those with whom I disagree.
  12. Think twice before expressing my opinion about something. Decide if it is really necessary or beneficial to do so. (I have a strange feeling that this might result in expressing my opinion less often.)
  13. Thank Dan every day.
  14. Spend more time in prayer.
  15. Actually observe a Sabbath each week.
  16. Read through The Book of common Prayer.
  17. When feeling down, do something besides eat or wallow to get over it—read poetry, listen to music, pray, exercise, play guitar hero, go outside, hang out with Dan, send an e-mail to a blog pal, etc.
  18. Tell myself the truth.
  19. Represent myself more authentically to others.
  20. Become just a little more like Jesus, one day at a time.

Tell me about some of your goals for 2009...besides visiting my blog every day, of course! :)


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Book Club Discussion: The Blue Parakeet

I’m so excited about our book club selection for the moth of January that I decided to go ahead and get started on it this week. My copy of The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight was a Christmas present, and despite battling a severe cold and the constant temptation to play guitar hero, I managed to finish it within a few days.

The Blue Parakeet is perfect for the blog because it asks a lot of intriguing questions about how we read the Bible and calls for a new approach that transcend the old traditional vs. liberal approach to hermeneutics.  Also, it is published by the greatest, most merciful publisher on earth—Zondervan.  (I’m on a tight deadline with my own book right now, so I think a little sucking up is warrented...just in case.)

Many of you are probably familiar with Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. If you aren’t, I highly recommend you visit. Over the past few years, I’ve come to really appreciate McKnight’s humility and gentleness, especially when dealing with controversial issues, and my impressions of The Blue Parakeet were no doubt influenced by my respect for its author.

So, let’s get to it.

Picking and Choosing

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says to me, (usually in response to some statement I’ve made about the role of women in the church or Christians and politics or some other wildly inappropriate subject for dinner conversation), “well I don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible I take seriously.” The implication is that my position ignores certain parts of the Bible while their position does not. “I prefer to take the Bible at its word,” they say. I hear this all the time, and it makes me want to scream, “Really? Well, then why haven’t you sold all of your possessions as Jesus commanded in Luke 14:33?” or “Why don’t you tell your wife to take off that nice necklace and cover her head?” (At which point they could appropriately ask me why I have chosen to ignore James’ command to “be slow to speak and slow to anger,” after which I could remind them of Jesus’ words about judging...and before you know it, we would be flinging food and Bible verses at one another at will.)

So you can imagine my delight when McKnight writes the following in Chapter 1 of the Blue Parakeet:

“Many of my fine Christian friends, pastors, and teachers routinely made the claim that they were Bible-believing Christians, and they were committed to the whole Bible and that—and this was one of my favorite lines—‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!’... What I discovered is that we all pick and choose...No one does everything the Bible says.” (11-12)

The point of the book is to explore why we pick and choose, and “how to do this in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God’s Word for all times.” (13)

In other words, the first step is to admit that we all do it. We all pick and choose. The second step is to examine why, and the third is to explore how to do it right.

When it comes to picking and choosing, McKnight uses as an example James 1:26-27, in which James writes that “those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless,” noting that, in his church, “we didn’t measure Christian maturity by control of the tongue.” (12)  He’s right. Many of you have probably witnessed a young girl be “disciplined” at church for getting pregnant, or seen a man or woman forced to leave the church for committing adultery.  But how many of you have seen a person disciplined for being a gossip?

Other examples of picking and choosing that McKnight cites include observing the Sabbath, tithing, foot-washing, charismatic gifts, and surrendering of possessions. He also points out that many Christians appeal to Paul’s use of the word “nature” in Romans 1:26  when the apostle writes, “even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones,” while ignoring his use of the word “nature” in I Corinthians 11:14 in which he asks, “does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair it is her glory?”


McKnight asks, “Why is it that one group thinks the charismatic gifts are dead and gone while other groups vibrate with tongue-speaking and words of prophecy? Why is that two of us can sit down with the same Bible with the same question—Should Christians participate in war?—and come away with two different answers? One can appeal to Joshua and Judges and the other can appeal to Jesus’ statement to love your enemies and to turn the other cheek. Why do some churches ordain women and let them preach while other churches have folks who get up and walk out when a woman opens her bile for some teaching in front of men?” (18)

According to McKnight, there is plenty of picking and choosing on both sides.  We just don’t like to admit it.

It’s easy enough to go along pretending not to notice, to sweep such inconsistencies under the rug, he says, until a verse or passage suddenly jumps out at us, challenging our old assumptions. McKnight calls these Blue Parakeets.

Blue Parakeets

Writes McKnight, “Blue parakeet passages are oddities in the Bible that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens. If we are honest, blue parakeet passages often threaten us, call into question our traditional way of reading the Bible, and summon us back to the Bible to rethink how we read the Bible.” (208)

Blue parakeets may be “as simple as the Sabbath or foot washing or as complex and emotional as women in church ministries or homosexuality.” The point is that they make us stop and think.


  1. According to McKnight, we tend to use shortcuts when reading the Bible, and we rely on these shortcuts to silence or ignore blue parakeets. These shortcuts include:
  2. Treating the Bible as a collection of laws (legalism)
  3. Treating the Bible as a collection of blessings and promises, filled with little morsels of truth taken out of context (he uses the example of inspirational calendars that predictably use Jeremiah 31:31 as a promise to all people at all times)
  4. Treating the Bible as a Rohrsschach inkblot onto which we can project our own ideas (I think that we all do this to an extent, don’t you?)
  5. Treating the Bible as a giant puzzle that we are to puzzle together (I think he’s referring to systematic theology)
  6. Treating one of the Bible author’s as a Maestro (basically, filtering everything else in the Bible through the grid of Paul or the book Romans or the Gospels or whatever.)

(The parentheses are mine)

I don't know about you, but my personal experience has been with shortcuts 4 and 5. Heavily influenced by theology all of my life, I’ve always sought to systematize the Bible. When I went through a (very brief) Reformed phase, I ignored the many passages of Scripture that contradicted Calvin. When I went through my (still lingering) Arminian stage, I skipped over the passages that spoke of predestination. Raised with the Romans road, I used to take Paul more seriously than Jesus. In fact, it used to bother me that Jesus wasn’t more clear about justification by faith alone.

McKnight claims that a better option is to read the Bible as Story...and we’ll talk about that next time.

What do you think?

Reflecting on McKnight’s first two chapters, a few questions jump out:

1) Do you agree that all Christians pick and choose when it comes to interpreting and applying Scripture, and can you think of some other examples? 2) What are some of YOUR blue parakeets—passages that bother your or challenge you to re-think your position on certain issues? and 3) Which shortcuts to you tend to use when reading the Bible? Which shortcuts did you grow up with?

P.S. Please excuse any typos, grammatical errors,  or crazy talk about food fights over hermeneutics. I'm a little high on Nyquil right now.


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Thanks + Topic Ideas

I just wanted to take a moment to thank all my blog pals for your readerships and participation this year. I feel really happy that “Evolving in Monkey Town” has become a diverse and active community where visitors feel safe sharing their ideas...

Thanks for your civility and thoughtfulness, for shedding new light on things I thought I’d already figured out, for opening cans of worms that often made the discussions much more interesting than my original posts, for listening to my occasional rants, and for bringing your own unique backgrounds, studies, experiences, and links to the conversations. I’ve especially enjoyed hearing from those of you who have wrestled with doubts about your faith, asked tough questions, and travelled similar paths on your faith journeys. It means so much to me to know that I’m not alone.

Special thanks to Micah, Kedric, Matt, Laurie, and Kristen for being some of the first to turn the blog into a discussion rather than just a diary. Thanks also to Travis, Eric, Julianne, and Howard for your consistent comments.

As I consider potential book club selections and future topics, I’m interested to know what you guys like to read/talk about. Tell me which subjects you think have been over-done on the blog, which subjects you’d like to discuss more often, and which subjects we haven’t touched on yet but should.  

You may want to reference the archives or topics list. Be honest. I want to know what you think!


Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Rick Warren @ Inaguration: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

The blogosphere is abuzz about Barack Obama’s decision to have Pastor Rick Warren pray at his inauguration.  What do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down?


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Reflections on 2008

I’ve always been introspective. Sometimes this translates into a healthy self-awareness; other times it looks a bit more like narcissism. But this time of year, I think it’s appropriate to take stock of one’s accomplishments and failures, to reflect on lessons learned, and to set new goals for the future.  I’ll give everyone the opportunity to weigh in on their New Year’s resolutions next week. This week, I want to focus on 2008—the highlights, the low moments, the things we learned about ourselves, God, each other, and the world.

By all accounts, it has been a really good year for me.  I transitioned into a full-time writing career and nabbed my first book deal. This has been a goal of mine since I was ten-years-old, and I simply cannot articulate how thankful and delighted I am to get up every morning, sit down at my desk with a cup of coffee, and write.  I still can’t believe someone is paying me to do this.

However, as I told Dan the other day, despite accomplishing this major goal, I’m still just as insecure and self-conscious as ever.  I still hate the shape of my nose. I still get stressed out about dirty dishes in my sink. I still feel guilty for having so much stuff while others around the world suffer. I still feel depressed sometimes for no reason. I still blurt out my opinion without being asked. I still want desperately to be liked.  On top of all of this, I’ve already started worrying about how my book will be received by friends and family, how many copies I will sell, and how soon I can start the next one.  

It is a strangely freeing moment when you realize that having everything you thought you wanted doesn’t make you happy. It’s freeing because, in a way, it takes the pressure off. I’m more convinced than ever that happiness is a choice, and that I can be miserable with or without a book deal, joyful with or without high sales numbers.  I don’t have to sit around waiting for someone to approve. I don’t have to fight so frantically for success. There is so much freedom in knowing I’ve always had this kind of power. I’ve always possessed the ability to be content. I just have to learn to harness it.

That might be the most important thing I learned this year. Here are some other highlights:

Best Moments:

  1. Picking up the phone to hear my agent say, “This is the call you’ve been waiting for.”
  2. Watching Dan successfully flip a house during the worst real estate market of our lifetime.
  3. When Wolf Blitzer announced that “Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.”
  4. Finding California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizzas at Wal-Mart.
  5. Almost peeing in my pants as Alabama squeaked by LSU.
  6. Writing “11-0” on my “Bama Football” whiteboard.
  7. Checking my e-mail to find my inbox crowded with e-mails from people who have struggled with doubts about their faith, who understand where I am coming from, and who offer their input and ideas without judgment. (You know who you are!)
  8. Reconnecting with old friends in new ways. (You know who you are too!)
  9. Beating the boys at poker three times in a row.
  10. Floating in a big, yellow inner tube down the lazy river at a fancy resort in Gulf Shores where Dan and I took a long-awaited vacation.
  11. Getting launched into the blogosphere, where I’ve met all kinds of interesting people
  12. Reading “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
  13. Discovering Stephen Colbert.
  14. Getting an ISBN number.
  15. Hanging out with my sister for a weekend in Birmingham
  16. Laughing until I cried with my best friend from childhood
  17. Playing with my nieces and nephews at the annual Evans Family reunion
  18. Waking up next to Dan and being as happy about being married to him as I was the day after our wedding...maybe even happier.
  19. Reading the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month and realizing that the gospel still means something to me.

Worst Moments:

  1. Crying for hours after getting rejected by one of the first publishers to seriously consider my book. (Note to other writers: You get used to it after a while!)
  2. The Florida game. Enough said.
  3. When I watched a church full of evangelical Christians at the Saddleback Forum cheer at the mention of “defeating evil” by military force. I’ve never felt so alienated from my own religious community.
  4. Not knowing where to go to church on Sunday mornings.
  5. Constantly being asked, “How can you call yourself a Christian and vote for Obama?”
  6. Hearing friends who I respect refer to Hillary Clinton as a “bitch” and Obama as a “terrorist.”
  7. Watching the violence unfold in the Congo, in India, and in Myanmar.
  8. Anytime Dan was sad or didn't feel well.
  9. Reading the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month and coming face to face with my own hypocrisy.

Things I learned about myself, the world, and spirituality:

  1. When I really set my mind to something and work hard, I can accomplish it. I am much more capable than I’ve given myself credit for.
  2. I desperately long for authentic relationships and community. Whether I like to admit it or not, I need other people in my life.
  3. Apparently, I’m a bleeding-heart liberal.
  4. My opinions aren't nearly as important to other people as they are to me. The world isn't waiting with baited breath to hear what I have to say about it.
  5. I have a fear of silence.
  6. I am judgmental of people who are judgmental.
  7. Music and exercise are as effective as chocolate in lifting my mood.
  8. It is always within my power to be happy. Happiness is not dependent on changing circumstances.  It is not dependent on success.
  9. Everyone else is just as insecure and frightened as I am.
  10. Salvation isn't just about the afterlife.
  11. Faith has little to do with intellectual ascent to a set of propositional truths.
  12. Most of us are guilty of making God into glorified images of ourselves.
  13. Following the teachings of Jesus  Christ has the power to free me from my ugliest sins—my selfishness, my materialism, my greed, my jealousy, my desire for revenge, my hypocrisy, my judgments, my lack of compassion. Despite all that has changed over the past few years, I still believe this to be true.

So, what about you? It’s kind of a loaded question, but what are some of the most important things you learned this year?


Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.