A (Blogging) Year in Review

'Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich' photo (c) 2010, Link576 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

From the beginning, blogging has surprised me. I never dreamed it would lead to so many career opportunities, never dreamed it would connect me to such wonderful people, never dreamed it would start so many interesting conversations, never dreamed I would love it as much as I do. 

This year brought a string of new surprises. I could never have predicted this time last year that in 2012 folks would find this blog by searching for “vaginagate,” or “woman of valor,” or “feminist Chick-fil-A,” or “Whoopi womanhood,” or  “egalitarian pleasuring party.”  But that’s what a year of blogging brings—weird, dirty-sounding keyword searches.  

Our very first post of 2012 was about loving the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be. This post set the tone for the year and launched a series on the Bible that started some fantastic conversations in the comment section. We discussed several books related to the Bible, including The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith, Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright, and Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns. 

I started speaking more regularly this year, which meant I got to meet more of you in person—at churches, conferences, and colleges from Waco, to Portland, to Minneapolis, to Lynchburg. Some highlights included hanging out with the ladies of Truett Seminary, dancing to “Call Me Maybe” with the youth of the United Methodist Virginia Conference, getting the chance be Nadia Bolz-Weber’s roommate at Wild Goose West, and getting the grand tour of Chicago, complete with pizza, during STORY 2012.  

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In March, what has affectionately become known as “Vaginagate” happened. So did Kony 2012. Then Anne Rice shared my post on “Rush Limbaugh and Thee Evangelical Blindspots.” It was a good month for blog stats. 

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Our “Ask a…” series continued, with some amazing contributions from Jonathan Martin (“Ask a Pentecostal”), Helena Burns (“Ask a Nun”), Dianna Anderson (“Ask a Feminist”), Sonny Lemmons (“Ask a Stay-At-Home Dad”), and many more. 

In April, I totally pulled your leg with a special edition of Sunday Superlatives

In May, we spent a week discussing gender, the Bible, and the Church in a weeklong series called “Mutuality 2012.” This turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my blogging career, as I heard from so many readers who were challenged and changed by God’s good news for men and women. Your contributions to the synchroblog started conversations around the blogosphere that I know changed lives. 

We talked a lot about church this year. I shared 15 reasons I left church and 15 reasons I’ve returned. Kim VanBrunt shared what it’s like to leave church with a family in tow. I wrote about why I don’t always fit in with mainline churches, and Aric Clark wrote a fantastic response about “the passionate mainline.” We talked about nurturing better conversations between the churched and the un-churched, and then we listened to one another’s church stories—from a young woman with Asperger’s, to an African American calling for reconciliation, to an Episcopal’s love for, and struggle with, the creeds.  Look for more of these stories in 2013 as we spend more time exploring denominationalism and church trends and as we “visit” various faith communities around the country. 

In June, I explained how to watch an entire season of The Bachelorette and still be too good for it.  I also learned that sometimes the shortest posts say the most.  

In July, I pissed off some guys at the Gospel Coalition by suggesting that not every woman thinks getting “conquered and colonized” sounds like a good time. 

We launched our Women of Valor series in August with an essay contest that brought in some of our finest guest posts ever. Your contributions to this series have been such a joy to read and to share. They truly make the Internet better. 

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Then, in September, we switched to a new blogging platform (Square Space) and celebrated our 1,000th post. (A big shout-out to Dan for all his work on that.) I started a series on Esther that I never finished (but hope to in the New Year). 

In October I explained why I love the Bible and why I don’t think ambition is a sin. Dan hijacked the blog one day. 

Things get a little blurry after that. At some point Dan and I flew into New York City during a hurricane, got interviewed on The Today Show and The View, and celebrated the release of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, which you helped catapult to the New York Times Bestseller list for ebooks. 

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We managed to mostly steer clear of politics this election year, with a few exceptions. On Election Day, we participated in a virtual Election Day Communion

December was pretty quiet on the blog, with the exception of our most-read post of all time, “God can’t be kept out.” 

Another year full of blogging surprises! And I am so, so grateful for each one. Thank you for being a part of my life in this small way. I have learned so much from you, been so profoundly challenged and encouraged by you, and found myself so richly blessed by you, it’s hard to find the right words with which to express my gratitude. 

I plan to spend next week plotting for 2013, so if you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below. 

And now, for the obligatory “most popular” list: 

Most Popular Posts

1. God Can’t Be Kept Out

2. Some Words for Christians on Both Sides of the Chick-fil-A War

3. How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation

4. 15 Reasons I Left Church & 15 Reasons I Returned to Church 

5. Enough: Or Why We Should All Be Laughing Hysterically in the Magazine Aisle 

6. They Were Right (And Wrong) About the Slippery Slope 

7. The Gospel Coalition, Sex, and Subordination 

8. 40 Ideas for Lent (2012) 

9. Christian Bookstores and Their Chokehold on the Industry 

10. “All Right Then, I’ll Go to Hell”

Best Comment Sections 

1. Barbara Kingsolver and Church Misfits

2. 90s Christian Music Night at the Roller Rink 

3. From Waging War to Washing Feet: How Do We Move Forward?

4. Scattered Thoughts on My Life in the Christian “industry”

5. Bible series posts 

Popular Guest Posts (in no particular order) 

1. “Will you always believe in Jesus, Mama?” (Anonymous)

2. Ask. Seek. Knock. Breath by Beth Woolsey

3. Church Stories: Embracing Faith as an Aspie by Erin Thomas 

4. Church Stories: A Plea to Engage in Racial Reconciliation by Grace Biskie 

5. Women of the Gospels: The Fab Four by Carolyn Custis James 

6. When Men and Women Ministered Together as Equals…In the Early Church by Ed Cyzewski

7. Dear Mother by Sarah Bessey 

8. Is God Really Omnipotent? By Tripp Fulller and Bo Sanders

9. Taking My Thumb Off the Scale by Lois Tverberg  

10. Just a Mediocre Miracle by Neely Stansell Simpson 

So, what were the most popular posts on YOUR blog this year? And what would you like to see more of/less of here in 2013? 


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“A Year of Biblical Womanhood” $1.99 on Kindle

Not sure how long this sale will last, but right now on Amazon you can get A Year of Biblical Womanhood for your Kindle for just $1.99. You can download it here

In other fun news, Tony Jones just named A Year of Biblical Womanhood his Theoblogy Book of the Year.

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Mary, the Mother of God

'mary' photo (c) 2011, Heather - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

an excerpt from A Year of Biblical Womanhood:

"Mary, she moves behind me 
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Everytime the snow drifts, every way the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she's always there.

Jesus said, Mother I couldn't stay another day longer,
Flies right by and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place."
- Patty Griffin, "Mary" 

There’s a misconception among some Protestants that Catholic and Orthodox Christians worship the Virgin Mary. The icons, the rosary, the crowning, the Marian hymns—it’s all a bit much, and so they dismiss out of hand any language of veneration that might elevate the mother of Jesus to a place of special esteem and call it idolatry.

It’s a shame, really, because Mary has so much to teach us.

Like Eve, the mother of Jesus has been subjected to countless embellishments of the religious imagination— some of them fair, some of them more reflective of the prejudices and projections of the societies from which they came. Often she appears as a foil to eve: the redemption of womankind and the standard of female virtue. Standing triumphantly atop the temptation scene on Notre Dame Cathedral’s western facade is the statue of the crowned Mary, her royal robes grazing the top of the eve’s head. “What had been laid to waste in ruin by this sex,” Tertullian wrote, “was by the same sex re-established in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight.”

That a woman who managed to be both a virgin and a mother is often presented as God’s standard for womanhood and can be frustrating for those of us who have to work within the constraints of physical law. Indeed, visions of Mary’s virtue have been amplified though the centuries, far beyond what we find in the biblical text. The apocryphal protoevangelium of James presents Mary as sinless, a perpetual virgin who spent the first three years of her life living in the temple and being fed by angels, and who somehow managed to give birth in a first-century Palestinian barn without feeling an ounce of pain. In 1854 the Catholic Church formally embraced as dogma the Immaculate Conception—the belief that Mary was born without the stain of original sin. It’s as though, over time, Mary’s feet have gotten farther and farther off the ground.

Much could be said in contrast about the “real Mary” of the biblical narrative: the teenage girl from Nazareth who gave birth on a dirty stable floor; the terrified mom who scurried frantically through the streets of Jerusalem, looking for her lost little boy; the woman who had enough influence over Jesus to convince him to liven up a wedding with his first miracle of turning water into wine; the grieved mother who wept in the shadow of the cross. But perhaps the most revealing glimpse into Mary’s true character can be found in the Magnificat—a prayer beloved by saints and Southern Baptists alike.

According to Luke’s gospel, when Mary was betrothed to Joseph, God sent the angel Gabriel to deliver an important message. His presence and his words frightened the young girl.

“Do not be afraid, Mary,” said Gabriel. “You have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most high. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

Gabriel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come over her: The “power of the Most high will overshadow you.”

 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary said resolutely. “May your word to me be fulfilled”

Fully yielded to the will of God, this young, peasant girl offered a bold and subversive prayer that reveals her own hopes for this special child and the future of Israel:

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,

for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty one has done great things for me— holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,

just as He promised our ancestors. (vv. 46–55)

With this prayer, we encounter Mary as Theotokos—the Mother of God, a Greek term that sends many Protestants running for their commentaries, but which beautifully connects the humanity of Mary with her divine call. It comes from the Orthodox Church, and more accurately means “God-bearer” or, “the one who gives birth to God.” Theotokos refers not to Mary as the mother of God from all eternity, but as the mother of God incarnate. She is what made Jesus both fully God and fully man, her womb the place where heaven and earth meld into one.

At the heart of Mary’s worthiness is her obedience, not to a man, not to a culture, not even to a cause or a religion, but to the creative work of a God who lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things.

Madeleine L’Engle connects this type of obedience to our own everyday acts of creation. “Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays,” she wrote, “but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist can either say, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly become the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.”

The same applies to faith. One need not be a saint, or a mother, to become a bearer of God. One needs only to obey. The divine resides in all of us, but it is our choice to magnify it or diminish it, to ignore it or to surrender to its lead.

“Mary did not always understand,” wrote L’Engle, “but one does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding—that intellectual understanding which we are so fond of—there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing, knowing things which you are not yet able to understand.”

Like a good protestant should, I think Mary’s act of radical obedience means more when she is one of us. Imperfect. Afraid. Capable of feeling all the pain and doubt and fear that come with delivering God into the world. But I suspect I may also be a bit of a Catholic, for on the rare occasion that I yield myself fully to the will of God, when I write or speak or do the dishes to magnify the Lord, I start to see Mary everywhere.

**

Read more in A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

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God can’t be kept out

'Candle' photo (c) 2011, Armin Vogel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Those little Advent candles sure have a lot of darkness to overcome this year. I see them glowing from church windows and on TV, in homes and at midnight vigils, here in Dayton and in Sandy Hook. Their stubborn flames represent the divine promise that even the smallest light can chase away the shadows lurking in this world, that even in the darkest places, God can’t be kept out. 

It’s a hard promise to believe right now, I know. The children in the pictures are just too young, too familiar. Our hearts ache; the darkness seems so heavy and thick. 

We all grieve in different ways, and we must be patient with one another as we do, but there is a rumor floating around among the people of God that is so vile, so dangerous and untrue, it simply must be called out. It’s a rumor that began long before the shots rang out at Sandy Hook and long before this Advent season. 

It’s the rumor that God can be chased out. 

You might have heard it from Bill O’Reilly and those who, every Christmas, work themselves into a frenzy over the “War on Christmas.” They storm checkout counters to demand that clerks issue them a “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” crying persecution when inflatable manger scenes are moved from public courthouses to private property. They demand that every gift purchased, every mall opened late, every credit card maxed out must be done so in Jesus’ name…or else Christ will be taken out of Christmas. They do it because someone told them that God needs a nod from the Empire to show up, forgetting somehow that God showed up as a Jew in the Roman Empire.

In a barn.  

As a minority. 

After a genocide. 

To the applause of a few poor shepherds. 

If the incarnation tells us anything, it’s that God can’t be kept out. 

Or you might have heard the rumor from a red-faced preacher who insists that if we can’t keep God’s name in our pledge, on our money, and on our courthouse walls, then we can’t keep God in our country. He has convinced his congregation that the fight of faith is a fight for power, that we win when we see God’s name on our cash, on our statues, on our idols, and in our legislation. He thinks that the removal of God’s name is the removal of God’s very self. He has forgotten that when God showed up, God was executed by the government. 

On a cross. 

Emptied of all power. 

Only to rise from a borrowed grave three days later because God can’t be kept out.

Or, most recently, you might have heard the rumor from Bryan Fischerfrom Mike Hucakbee or a friend on Facebook, saying that God abandoned the children at Sandy Hook because, though children have every right to pray in public schools, those schools cannot sponsor prayer events out of deference to religious freedom. When asked where God was on that awful Friday morning, these Christians have said that God did not show up at Sandy Hook because “God is not allowed in public schools,” because “ we have systematically removed God” from that place. 

Brothers and sisters, let’s call this one for what it is: bullshit.  

God can be wherever God wants to be. God needs no formal invitation. We couldn’t “systematically remove” God if we tried. 

If the incarnation teaches us anything, it’s that God can be found everywhere: in a cattle trough, on a throne, among the poor, with the sick, on a donkey, in a fishing boat, with the junkie, with the prostitute, with the hypocrite, with the forgotten, in places of power, in places of oppression, in poverty, in wealth, where God’s name is known, where it is unknown, with our friends, with our enemies, in our convictions, in our doubts, in life, in death, at the table, on the cross, and in every kindergarten classroom from Sandy Hook to Shanghai.  

God cannot be kept out. 

And although my doubt and anger make it hard for me to believe today, I will keep lighting those little Advent candles like a religious fool until they help me in my unbelief. May their flames be a reminder to all of us that we don’t have to know why God let this happen to know that God was there…. 

and here,

and in those swaddling clothes, 

and on that cross, 

and in that grave, 

and on the throne. 

For no amount of darkness can overcome the light. 

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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.