Hearts of Flesh

'Field Day' photo (c) 2010, Kara Harms - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Fundamentalism erases people. 

I’ve watched as men once alive with ideas and passion surrender their curiosity and intellectual integrity to conform to the ideological boundaries that will let them keep their jobs.  

I’ve seen women literally shrink—a pound at a time, a dream at a time—as they conform their bodies and their spirits to a strict ideal, as they try to make themselves acceptably small. 

I’ve seen the light go out in people’s eyes when they decide it’s safer to embrace a doctrine or a policy that their gut tells them is wrong than it is to challenge those who say it’s right. 

I’ve watched open minds close and tender hearts harden.

 I’ve seen people pretend to believe things they don’t actually believe and do things they don’t actually want to do, all in the name of conformity to God’s will, all in the name of sacrifice and submission. 

Fundamentalism erases people.  It erases their joy, their compassion, their instincts, their curiosity, their passion, their selves.  And then it celebrates this ghosting, this nulling and numbing, as a glorious “dying to the self,” just like Jesus demanded. 

 

But is this really what Jesus asked? 

Is this really the sort of fasting God demands? 

Or is it to loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, and set the oppressed free, 

to replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, 

to have life and have it abundantly,   

to proclaim freedom for prisoners and sight to the blind, 

to cast out fear,  

to find rest, 

to "learn the unforced rhythms of grace”

 

You see, Jesus never asks us to die without promising us resurrection.  Resurrection is the whole point!

The selves we die to are the fearful selves, the sinful selves, the imprisoned selves. The selves we rise to are the free selves, the life-filled selves, the brave selves, the whole selves, the Christ-like selves. 

Ultimately, we are not called to die. We are called to live. 

As Paul told the Romans, “What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection… God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master” (Romans 6:7, 23, The Message). 

And later: “I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”  (2 Corinthians 6:11-13, The Message)

 

If we are animated by the spirit of Jesus, we have nothing to fear. 

There is no need to shrink. 

No need to pretend. 

No need to check out intellectually or emotionally. 

No need to disengage out of fear. 

No need to conform to anyone’s will but Christ’s. 

 

God doesn’t want to erase us. God wants to bring us back to life. 

So take this gift of life...

Eat it, drink it, and breathe it in. 

Taste and see that the Lord is good and you are alive. 

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Some (cheap) book news…

As a book addict, I’m always on the lookout for good sales, so I thought I’d let you know that TODAY ONLY, (March 24), Amazon is selling the Kindle version of A Year of Biblical Womanhood for just $2.99. 

While you’re there, consider adding Sarah Bessey’s excellent book, Jesus Feminist, to your cart as it’s on sale for just $1.99 on Kindle and Nook.

…That’s a whole lot of Jesus-feministy valor for five bucks.

(Note: I realize these sales only apply the U.S. I wish I could change that, but we authors have very little influence over when and where our books are discounted.) 

In other book news, Zondervan is *re-releasing* Evolving in Monkey Town as Faith Unraveled on April 8.  The biggest changes are a new cover and new title. Most of the content is the same. This is my first book, and it explains how I went from winning the "Best Christian Attitude Award" at school every year to questioning the existence of God…all in the context of the Bible Belt. You can pre-order Faith Unraveled on Kindle and Nook for just $3.99 right now, which is a great deal. I suspect the price will go up upon release. 

Some other good books on sale at Amazon and Barnes & Noble right now include Still by Lauren Winner ($2.99) and An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor ($3.99). 

So basically, if you’ve been eager to fill up your e-reader with women’s voices, you can do that for cheap this week! 

Finally, as I mentioned last week, I’m still in the writing process for the next book, my third book, which is about church and tentatively titled Sunday Morning. That one is not available yet...cause a good part of it is STILL IN MY HEAD! Yikes.  I’ll of course keep you update when we have a release date for that. 

Happy reading!

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Sunday Superlatives 3/23/14

'Spring scene with Liverleaf' photo (c) 2012, Randi Hausken - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Best Chart:
Bird and Moon with “If you find a baby songbird out of the nest” 

Best Sermon: 
Nadia Bolz-Weber with “Sermon on Earthly Things, Wombs, and the Resurrection of the Dead” 
 

“I understand Nicodemis’s desire for this all to make sense. I do. But instead of a religion revealed through philosophical constructs – easily reasoned out and understood, instead we get a God inconveniently revealed in people, and food and wine and water and bodies and pies and oil and beer. When God chose to come and take on human flesh and walk the earth and break bread with friends it was as though God was baptizing the material.  As though to say ‘stop looking for me in the heavens when you aren’t even close to understanding the majesty of a loaf of bread,’ or as Jesus puts it, if you can’t understand earthly things you’ll never understand heavenly things.” 

Best Reflection:
Maria Konnikova at The New York Times with “Don’t Quote Me On This”

“Emerson didn’t hate quotation, not really. What he hated was our impulse to shortcut actual thought. The Internet didn’t create that impulse, but it has made it far more tempting and easier to satisfy.” 
 

Best Imagery: 
John Blase with “Just a Hunch”

“We live haunted by the remains
of a paradise half-seen in dreams,
half-heard in birdsong, half-felt
in the aftermath of love’s making.”

Best Reminder: 
Kenneth Tanner with “How We Know God” 

“We know what God looks like; God looks like Jesus. We know what God sounds like; God sounds like Jesus. We know how God acts; God acts like Jesus.”
 

Best Analysis: 
Tim Krueger at Christians for Biblical Equality with “Reframing Biblical Masculinity” 

“Several hallmarks of “biblical manhood” look suspiciously like modern, Western, middle-to-upper class rites of passage: employment outside the home, financial independence, marriage, and fatherhood, for instance. Jesus, on the other hand, never married or had children. He abandoned his family business in favor of ministry, becoming financially dependent on others—even women. He could be tough, but he also wept in public. Day after day, he soiled his reputation as a man of God by hanging around the wrong people. In short, Jesus fails spectacularly to live up to the ideals of “biblical manhood.” This, to me, suggests that we might be off track.” 
 

Best Meditation: 
Adam McHugh with "Praying with the Waves" 

"The tide waxes. Inhale. Breathe in the love God.
The tide wanes. Exhale. Release the hurt. 
Wax. Breathe in the Presence.
Wane. Breathe out the regret.
Crash. Inhale his tenderness.
Flee. Exhale the heartbreak and grief.
Approach. Take in the fresh air of grace and new creation.
Depart. Surrender the black cloud of sin and guilt." 

Funniest: 
“5 Reasons Your Partner Doesn’t Actually Want to Go to the Farmer’s Market With You” 

“#2 Because dealing with the crowds and bad parking is not worth a tomato, heirloom or otherwise: I hate big, outdoor, weekend-long concerts. The crowds, parking lines and overpriced water aren't worth it; I'd rather listen to my favorite bands in the comfort of my living room. Not as vibrant or exciting, sure, but a lot less hellish. This is pretty much how your partner feels about tomatoes, corn and whatever else you are waxing rhapsodic about while you both stand uncomfortably sweating under the beating sun, waiting for the vendor to finish up his long, slow conversation with the woman in front of you. No vegetable is worth it, no matter how fresh.”
 

Wisest: 
Brian McLaren with “Do Not Fix Others As You Would Not Want to Be Fixed” 

“A lot of communication SNAFU’s can be avoided if we commit to this simple maxim: do not fix others as you would not want to be fixed.”

Bravest: 
Osheta Moore with “Speaking Fear, Praying Shalom”

“This Mama is still afraid. I’m afraid that my sweet boy in a hoodie could be mistaken for a threatening hoodlum and that a fear-propelled bullet could be his tragic end. This Mama is still afraid, so I will try to stand my ground and pray shalom when I’m tempted to speak fear.”

Truest: 
D.L. Mayfield with “Translators” 

“But inside there are dreams of large trees, big enough to create safe havens for the birds of the air. I am writing, all day every day, in my head. The disasters, the miracles. The despair, the joy. The abuses, the sadness, the mental illness, the addictions, the disabilities; the perseverance, the community, the colors, the embraces. The erasers taped on to the end of a pencil. A box of free bananas in the hallway. The snow slowly melting to reveal a graveyard of vodka bottles, gray and blue and brown. The youth group roaming outside of my window, hungry and scared for that mysterious, inscrutable kingdom to come. I don’t even know it until I write it all down: I love them. I love everything about my life, even as it pulls me down, forces me to see inside myself in ways I never wished for.

Craziest: 
This Wheel-of-Fortune Moment

Most Fascinating (nominated by Dan Evans): 
Frontline with “The Like Generation”
 

Most Relatable: 
Rob Bell with “What is the Bible, Part 53: A Shout Out to the Lonely” 

“This post is for all of you are are alive in ways you’ve never been before, learning and growing and making connections and seeing things you haven’t seen before but when you’ve shared this new faith and understanding with others you’ve been dismayed to discover that not everybody is so thrilled…” 

[Rob’s whole series on the Bible has been fantastic. If you want to read the whole thing, start here.]

Most Challenging: 
Christena Cleveland with “Urban Church Plantations” 

“A few years ago, a large, multi-campus, predominantly white church on the West Coast decided to expand their ministry into a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood. On the first Sunday of the new urban campus, the white male pastor who had zero urban ministry experience, brashly declared to the mostly black audience, “This ain’t your grandmomma’s church.” Little did he know that grandmomma’s church has been and will continue to be the cornerstone of the community. If it weren’t for grandmomma’s church this community would have completely fallen apart in the face of ongoing racism and societal oppression.” 

Most Thoughtful: 
Rob McCoy with “Six Reasons I Share Communion with Kids”

“One of my favorite things to say during the course of any service is, “This is not my table.  This is not a Methodist table.  This is Christ’s table, and all are welcome.  Come, for all is ready.”  If it is Christ’s table, who am I to guess his guest list?  If Christ wants to meet someone at his table, that’s his call, not mine.  Jesus told a story about inviting guests to a banquet, and one of the most important lessons of that story is that we don’t make the guest list.”
 

Most Eye-Opening: 
Ryan Herring with “From the Penthouse of Privilege” 

“Too often are poor and oppressed people (especially people of color) regarded as threats here in America, while poor and oppressed people in other countries are viewed as victims. This type of perspective is dehumanizing to people here and to people abroad. To overlook the problems here and to focus on issues elsewhere sends the message that poor and oppressed American's problems are either insignificant, unimportant, or non urgent and at the same time it leads to the objectification of the ‘exotic other.’”

Most Encouraging:
Suzanne Burden with “When I Opposed Women in Ministry” 

“She leaned in and said simply: ‘Jesus has already set women free.’ I’ll never forget it. Her timely words unlocked a doorway that had been bolted to me.”
 

Most Powerful: 
Debbie Blue at TIME with “God’s Feminine Side is Plain to See”
 

“The writers of the Bible are well aware of the insufficiency of the words available to them to speak of the divine him/her/it, because they reach so wildly. God is a lily, a rose, dew, wind and fire. God is a mother bear and a lion. On the other hand God is not a lion, but a lamb. God is not in the fire or the wind, but in the still small voice. God is in the images of birthing and bird–these are especially fruitful.”
 

Most Instructive: 
Gene Luen Yang with “Parental Expectations, Practical Majors, and Advice for Making Art”
 

“These days when aspiring cartoonists ask me for advice, I tell them to find a day job that they enjoy, one with flexible hours, one that will leave them with enough energy to do their own projects on the side. For most of us it takes years, even decades, for our art to begin making money. Art is a long haul, and you need to eat…Recently I realized, much to my chagrin, that I’m basically giving an Americanized version of my father’s talk.” 

Most Convicting: 
John Russell Stranger with "Fred Phelps and Our Offensive Gospel" 

"But Jesus—and our encounters with those we can’t stand—remind us that our power is limited. Our power to love. Our power to show compassion. Our power to live graciously. We do not have the power to grant nor withhold the living water of eternal life that Jesus offers the Samaritan woman. The living water of Christ respects none of our human distinctions of identity. The living water is grace more powerful than any of our refusals.”

Most Interesting: 
NPR with "What It Means to Be Catholic in 2014"

Most Relevant to Recent Conversations: 
Alisa Harris at The Daily Beast with “Survivor Bloggers Join Forces to Reveal Christian Fundamentalist Abuses” 

“Julie Ingersoll, a professor at the University of North Florida who studies evangelical communities, said mental isolation is key to abuse, and websites telling the stories of abuse survivors “completely undermine the power of abusers to convince their victims that it's their fault and that they're all alone. Collectively, the stories have power. It is often challenging to fully report on stories of sexual harassment or sexism in evangelical communities because records are sealed and because individual allegations are dismissed by people in power, Ingersoll says. But, she notes, if dozens of women tell the same story, the veracity is difficult to deny: 'If you have 100 stories that are really similar, the likelihood that they're all made up is really low.'”
 

Most Likely to Spark the Imagination:  
Kathy Escobar with “The Kingdom of God is like…”

“The challenge to us was to consider a real-life story of what the kingdom of God is like, a moment where we tasted it, felt it, touched it, experienced it. A moment where on the outside it might have looked like not-that-much, just ordinary, but underneath there was this magical kingdom-y thing happening. A moment where our eyes were opened to the reality of God in the here & now. A moment where heaven broke through. A moment that didn’t make sense but somehow did. A moment, no matter how big or small or seemingly spiritual or unspiritual or complicated or simple, we got a glimpse of God in a special way.”
 

So, what caught your eye online this week? What's happening on  your blog? 

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Your church stories…

'Church at Murringo (5)' photo (c) 2011, Richard Taylor - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As I’m putting the finishing touches on my next book (read: frantically writing the second half), I’ve realized I would like to include a few more stories about other people’s experiences with church. 

The book, tentatively titled Sunday Morning, is ultimately a memoir—a series of essays about loving, leaving, and finding the church, loosely arranged around the seven sacraments. I’m thrilled with how it’s turning out, and think it’s some of my best writing so far. But as with Evolving in Monkey Town and A Year of Biblical Womanhood, it’s important for me to not only share my own story, but also the stories of friends, family, and readers, in an effort to broaden the scope of the project and introduce new perspectives. I’ve already included several people’s stories in the book, but I’d like to include just a few more. 

So I’m hunting for church stories.  I’m looking for the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the bizarre, and the redemptive. I’d love to hear from both pastors and laypeople, the churched and the un-churched. A few questions that especially interest me: 

Why did you leave your church? 

How did you find your church? When did you know it was where you belonged?  

What did your journey look like?:  Atheist to Catholic? Anglican to Pentecostal? Baptist to Orthodox? (I love hearing about unusual church journeys) 

Tell me a story that encapsulates everything that is beautiful about your church. 

Tell me a story the encapsulates everything that frustrates you about church. 

[For pastors]: What makes you feel most removed from your congregation? What do you feel you have to keep from them? 


Think 400-800 words, about the size of a normal blog post. (Not my normal, which is 1500 words, but normal people’s normal.)  Specifics are key. Broad generalities won’t help me much. Since the book draws from the imagery of the seven sacraments—baptism, confession, communion, holy orders, marriage, healing, and confirmation—stories that center around those experiences are much more likely to strike a chord with where I’m at creatively with this project. 

If you’re interested in contributing your story, you can send it to Katie@Rachelheldevans.com or leave it in the comment section. Please include your first name and hometown. Katie is my assistant and she will keep track of all the submissions and put them in a single folder in my inbox. Though I will read them all, I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to respond to them all.  Please send submissions by April 1, 2014.

Submissions may be used in one of two ways: 

1)    Inclusion in the book. I’ll be sure to contact you if I want to include your story in the book. If I do, I will likely paraphrase your story in my own words and include several quotes from your submission, so the piece will have a sort of journalistic feel. (I’ll let you read your section before it’s published, but I will retain the rights to the final product, as it appears in the book.) If you leave a short comment—three to five sentences—I may use your quote in a series of other quotes around a single topic. (For example: “I asked my readers why they left their churches, and this is what some of them said…”) In all cases, I will only use first names. 

2)    Guest post entry. You will remember that a few years back we hosted a series of guest posts here on the blog called “Church Stories” (you can find most them under the “church” category). In the lead up to the release of Sunday Morning, I’d love to bring that series back with some new submissions. So if you’re interested in contributing to that, please indicate that in your email or comment and write with my audience in mind. (If I use your submission only for a guest post, you will retain full rights to the final product.) 

Hope all that makes sense. Let me know if you have questions.

One thing I love about blogging is that it has made the writing process so collaborative. I think about this little online community through every stage of the writing and publishing process, and I am so grateful for all the ways in which you have influenced how I think about the church. You’ve had a greater impact on me than you can know, and it’s a privilege to be on this journey with you. 

Thank you! 

Rach

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